US Energy Department Aids Electric Car Industry

Monday, September 20, 2010

Electric Car

By Roger Schreffler

The US Energy Department has awarded more than US$10 billion in grants and low interest loans to manufacturers and suppliers of advanced vehicles, mainly battery-powered cars.

In an ironic twist - since the program was set up to promote US industry - more than 15% of funding to date has gone to US subsidiaries of foreign firms.

Among these are BASF Catalysts, a subsidiary of German chemical giant BASF SE; Compact Power, a subsidiary of South Korea's LG Chem; Saft America, part of Saft Groupe SA; and Nissan North America, the US manufacturing arm of Japan's Nissan Motor Company.

With the exception of Nissan, which has a joint venture with the NEC Corporation to make lithium-ion batteries for the Leaf EV, an electric car due out in December, no Japanese battery-maker has been awarded a Department of Energy grant or loan.

Japanese battery-makers - namely Panasonic, Sanyo Electric (now a subsidiary of Panasonic), Hitachi Automotive Systems, and GS Yuasa Corporation - account for 95% of 'secondary' batteries for hybrid and pure electric vehicles on the road today.

Grants and loans were approved under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Energy Department's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program.

Compact Power, an LG Chem subsidiary, will supply lithium-ion battery cells to both General Motors and Ford from a production facility in Holland, Michigan.

In the case of GM, the cells will be for the Chevrolet Volt, an 'extended range' electric vehicle due out this November. As for Ford, they are producing the Ford Focus Electric EV, due out in 2011.


UN Department of Energy Grants (Foreign Winners)

-BASF SE, Germany (BASF Catalysts) Elyria, OH nickel-cobalt cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries: US$24.6 million.

-LG Chem, South Korea (Compact Power) Holland, Michigan, lithium-ion battery cells: US$151.4 million.

-Magna International, Canada (Magna E-Car Systems of America) Muncie, Indiana, and Holly, Michigan, advanced automotive drive system components: US$40 million.

-Saft Groupe SA, France (Saft America) Jacksonville, Florida, lithium battery cells, modules, and battery packs: US$95.5 million.

-Toda Corporation, Japan (Toda America) Goose Creek, South Caroline, nickel-cobalt metal cathode material for lithium batteries: US$35 million.

Subtotal: US$346.5 million (out of a total US$2.3 billion).

Department of Energy Low-Interest Loans

-Nissan Motor, Japan (Nissan North America) Smyrna, Tennessee, lithium batteries and EV production: US$1.4 billion.

Subtotal: US$1.4 billion (out of a total US$8.3 billion).

Total: US$1.7 billion (out of a total US$10.6 billion).

Roger Schreffler is a veteran business journalist who has covered the Japanese energy scene for more than twenty years.

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