On the heels of the news that A123 Systems is turning to Chinese investors to take over majority ownership of the struggling U.S. lithium-ion battery company, here's some more U.S.-China EV battery news, involving a bit less drama -- though it also will see the company's founder step down.
The news is from fellow Massachusetts-based lithium-ion battery company Boston-Power, which said Wednesday that it's supplying battery systems to Beijing Electric Vehicle Co. (BJEV), the electric vehicle delivery arm of Beijing Automotive Industry Company (BAIC). The two hope to see hundreds of pre-ordered C70 sedan EVs available in the fourth quarter of this year, and "thousands" of EVs of various models and brands by 2014.
Boston-Power decided to focus its manufacturing efforts in China some years ago, unlike A123, and in September announced $125 million in funding from private equity investors led by GSR Ventures, as well as support from China's government in the forms of grants, loans and incentives. The growth capital and Chinese government incentives are being used to scale manufacturing, research and development, and business development activities in China, including a plant capable of producing 400 megawatt-hours (MWh) of lithium-ion battery cells annually by the end of 2012. Boston-Power's "matchbox-sized" prismatic lithium-ion cells and battery packs are based on the familiar lithium cobalt chemistry found in notebook cells, where the company started its business.
Amidst multiple news reports on the deal, one from the Boston Business Journal stood out, in that it cited Boston-Power founder and former CEO Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud, saying that she will soon step down from her leadership role in the company. According to that report, Lampe-Önnerud may leave as early as September, and does not yet know if she will keep a seat on the board, though she told the BBJ last year that she's planning to look for new startup opportunities in Boston.
Boston-Power spokesman Chris Carleton said that Lampe-Önnerud signed a contract that had her staying on at the company through mid-September 2012, though she hasn't made an official departure announcement yet. Sonny Wu, a managing director at GSR Ventures and chairman of Boston-Power, has taken over as acting CEO since the 2011 investment, he said.
The competition for the automotive lithium-ion battery market is fierce. LG Chem produces batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Opel Ampera, the EU version of the Volt, while Leaf batteries are assembled by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), a joint venture between Nissan, NEC and NEC Energy Devices. A123 is an investor and battery supplier to Fisker Automotive (A123 lost the Volt contract to LG). Tesla's Model S uses batteries and battery packs from Panasonic. Earlier this year, Sony declared that it will produce lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and start selling them by the middle of the decade.
While much of the market for these EV batteries will be in North America and Europe, China is expected to play an increasingly important role in future growth. Indeed, Boston-Power's previous work on batteries with GM-owned Swedish carmaker Saab has played a part in its transition to BEVC. Part of the breakup of Saab included a 2009 sale to BEVC of an electric sedan platform that Boston-Power worked on, and has transitioned to working with BEVC's rollout of the C70 sedan, Carleton said.