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Monday, December 27, 2010

Japanese Giants Investing in Lithium-Ion Batteries

Anticipating steady growth in demand for pure electric and hybrid cars over the next 10 years, Japanese manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries are investing heavily in new production facilities.

Since 2009 they have spent more than $3 billion in Japan and, counting low-interest loans and grants awarded to Nissan Motor Co.’s overseas affiliates, an estimated $5 billion globally

All are hoping to compete for a global market in 2020 - depending on which forecast proves correct - of between 5 million and 15 million electric cars and hybrids.

Despite their dominance in hybrid batteries (mostly nickel-metal hydride types), claiming 95% of sales since the 1997 launch of the Toyota Motor Corp. Prius, and early lead in electric cars as lithium battery suppliers to Nissan and Mitsubishi Motor Corp. for the Leaf and i-MiEV, they anticipate strong competition from South Korea and China.

South Korea, for instance, has committed to spending $13 billion (15 trillion won) to become the world’s leading battery manufacturer by 2020. China, similarly, plans to support hybrid and electric vehicle infrastructure and sales through a 10-year investment program reported to exceed $15 billion (RMB 100).

The following is summary of recent facility investments by Japanese battery makers and their automotive customers:

NEC Corp., jointly with Nissan in June 2009, opened a $140 million (12 billion yen) line inside Nissan’s old Zama manufacturing complex west of Tokyo. When fully operational in 2011, the line will produce as many as 12 million lithium-ion cells annually, enough to make batteries for 65,000 pure electric and hybrid cars.

By late 2012, Nissan and NEC plan to expand lithium-battery production outside Japan into the U.S., U.K. and Portugal. Including planned capacity in France by Nissan’s ‘alliance’ partner Renault SA, total capacity will approach 90 million cells and batteries for nearly 500,000 cars.

To support the Zama operation, NEC Tokin Corp., an NEC subsidiary, invested an additional $129 million (11 billion yen) in a lithium-manganese electrode line at its Sagamihara plant west of Tokyo.

Also in June 2009, GS Yuasa Corp. began production at the first of two joint battery manufacturing ventures with Japanese automakers: Lithium Energy Japan. Jointly owned, jointly owned by Mitsubishi, the company currently has capacity to make 1.6 million cells on lines in Kusatsu (Gumma Prefecture) and Kyoto. A new plant in Ritto (Shiga Prefecture) is scheduled to come on stream in 2012 will add 4.4 million cells, bringing total capacity to 6 million, enough for 68,000 batteries.

Total investment in the three facilities: $608 million (51.7 billion yen).

Meanwhile, a second joint venture with Honda Motor Co. began operations this autumn inside GS Yuasa’s Osando plant near Kyoto. The venture, named Blue Energy Co., is believed to have capacity to make 2.8 million cells for around 30,000 hybrids and electric cars. Honda would not confirm planned production volumes.

Cost of the line: $294 million (25 billion yen).

Elsewhere, three of Japan’s electronic giants have also entered the market - Hitachi Ltd., Panasonic Corp. and Toshiba Corp.:

Hitachi Vehicle Energy Ltd., a Hitachi subsidiary, opened a new 3.6 million cell line in October 2009 in Hitachinaka (Ibaraki Prefecture). The new line raises capacity at the site to 4.1 million. Hitachi opened a 500,000-cell line in 2004.

Cumulative investment at the site: $176 million (15 billion yen).

To support the operation, Hitachi Maxell Ltd., another Hitachi subsidiary, invested $71 million (6 billion yen) in a new electrode line at the company’s Kyoto Works. The line began electrode production in February 2009.

Panasonic Energy Co., the battery-manufacturing division of Panasonic Corp., began lithium cell production in April 2010 at a new $1.2 billion (100 billion yen) ($1.2 billion) plant in Osaka. Initial capacity is 12 million cells. No details were provided about the automotive share.

In July 2010, Sanyo Electric Co., since December a wholly owned Panasonic subsidiary, opened a $153 million (13 billion yen) EV battery plant in Kosai (Shizuoka Prefecture) with capacity of 12 million cells. By 2016, Sanyo hopes to boost output to 120 million cells.

Toshiba will open a $294 million (25 billion yen) line at its Kashiwazaki plant in Niigata Prefecture this coming February. Initial capacity: 500,000 cells per month.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Japan’s largest diversified machinery manufacturer, completed construction of a plant inside its Nagasaki Shipyard and Machinery Works in November. Capacity at the plant, which will produce lithium batteries for forklifts, is 400,000 units.

Note that last January Primearth EV Energy Co., Toyota’s battery subsidiary, opened a new $353 million (30 billion yen) nickel metal hydride plant in northern Japan in Miyagi Prefecture. With the plant’s opening, the supplier has capacity to make 1 million nickel metal hydride batteries.

In 2010, it is expected to deliver more than 700,000 units, mostly to Toyota.

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