U.S. electric vehicle battery suppliers shakeout begins

Article by Christian A., on February 20, 2012

The electric vehicle battery suppliers in North America are experiencing various challenges. Ener1 Inc. filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last January. This New York-based battery maker had owned a stake in bankrupt Norwegian EV producer Think Global. Also in January, A123 Systems of Waltham, Mass. lowered its revenue outlook for 2011. It had laid off about 35% of its employees at two of its plants in Mich. On the other hand, Boston-Power Inc. of Westborough, Mass., intends to transfer a huge part of its operations to China, where the government is offering big subsidies to bolster the EV industry. With the sluggish sales of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, a few industry insiders predict that it will take one more decade at least for the U.S. market to generate high-volume sales of EVs.

It appears that battery makers have gotten ahead of the market. Industry consultant Jon Bereisa said that a shakeout couldn’t be avoided. One study said that "excessively grand expansion plans" would result in production capacity at two times the level of market demand by 2015. Bereisa, CEO of Auto Lectrification, a suburban Detroit consulting firm, said that there was a “mad scramble" by startup companies to make lithium ion batteries. He said that the EV industry won’t be able to absorb all that capacity. Roland Berger Strategy Consultants published a story last September about an industry study.

It was mentioned that these major suppliers have emerged. It’s expected that A123 would be a leading supplier of batteries for EV buses. In addition, it makes batteries for the Chevrolet Spark EV. LG Chem Ltd., South Korea's largest chemical company, manufactures batteries for the Chevrolet Volt. Meanwhile, NEC Corp., a Japanese electronics multinational, created a joint venture with Nissan Motor Co. to produce batteries. Panasonic Corp., the consumer electronics giant, produces batteries for the Toyota Prius hybrid. Lastly, SB Limotive, a joint venture between Korean electronics giant Samsung SDI and Robert Bosch GmbH, will be the supplier of EV batteries for BMW.

Center to the existence of the new Chevrolet Volt is the so-called Voltec propulsion system that includes an all-electric drive and a range-extending engine. This system allows the Volt to cruise up to 350 miles. Voltec’s all-electric drive derives its juice from a 5.5-foot, 435-pound (198.1 kg) T-shaped, 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 111 kW (149 hp) of output. In all-electric mode, this battery has enough capacity to allow the new Volt to travel between 25 miles and 50 miles, with actual range dependent on terrain and driving techniques as well as temperature. Of course, this consumes no gas or diesel and emits no carbon dioxide pollutants.

Once the battery has depleted its energy, the car’s extended-range mode kicks in seamlessly and smoothly. An advanced, 1.4-liter 63-kW (84-hp) gasoline-powered onboard engine is now in charge of sending inverted power to the electric drive, allowing the Volt to travel 310 more miles. In terms of performance, the Volt’s electric drive allows this EV to travel as fast as 100 mph. The new Volt could also sprint from zero to 60 mph in just 9.0 seconds and reach a mile in less than 17.0 seconds thanks to its 273 lb.-ft. (368 Nm) of torque that is available even in low engine speeds.

Manufactured in Brownstown Township, Mich., the battery pack – which consists of nine modules and 288 prismatic cells -- in the new Chevrolet Volt has been validated through over more than one million miles and four million hours of testing. Moreover, GM’s development, validation and test teams have complied with specs and even validated each of the Volt battery's 161 components. This battery’s performance, quality, durability and reliability are ensured by the fact that it is covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.

Micky Bly, GM executive director for global electrical systems, remarked that just as customers are committing to technology that could help lessen reliance on fossil fuels, the carmaker is committing to deliver to its clients the highest standards of value, performance, quality, safety and reliability.

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