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Friday, November 11, 2011

Sumitomo May Expand Sodium-Ion Battery Sales to Carmakers

Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. plans to sell a sodium-ion battery it is developing to makers of electric and hybrid passenger cars, expanding beyond the original target of commercial-vehicle fleet operators.

“Technically, it should be possible,” Mitsuo Nishida, a senior managing director at the Osaka-based company, said in an interview. “We can expect overall sales of the batteries to be boosted because we are now targeting a much big sector of the automotive market.”

Sumitomo, which supplies electrical wiring to Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG, said in March it developed a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion batteries that uses liquefied salt as an electrolyte. It aims to begin production of the batteries in 2015 and targets revenue of more than 1 trillion yen ($13 billion), Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Matsumoto said at the time. Nishida this week said he expects the technology to start producing revenue no later than 2017.

Demand for electric car batteries is expected to increase as Mitsubishi Motor Corp. starts sales of its i-MiEV car and Nissan Motor Co. markets its Leaf model. Toyota, the world’s biggest maker of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles last year, plans to start selling electric cars next year, while Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn has set a goal of making his company the leader in the sector. Ghosn projects demand for electric cars to increase to 10 percent of all auto sales by 2020, assuming oil costs more than $70 a barrel.

Cheaper, Safer

Sumitomo Electric said its new battery can be made cheaper and safer compared with lithium-ion batteries because liquefied salt costs less and is noncombustible. It had previously said the product may be applied only to buses or trucks because commercial vehicles usually travel on specified routes, allowing for regular checks to ensure the battery’s temperature remains at a level that prevents the electrolyte from solidifying, according to spokesman Masatoshi Nakata.

In Japan, commercial vehicles sales last year accounted for 13 percent of total car market, or about 1.21 million units, according to the website of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Carmakers are concerned lithium-ion batteries will be too expensive and are looking for alternatives, said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at consulting company Carnorama in Tokyo.

“They are developing various types of batteries on their own so we don’t know whether they would need to buy from Sumitomo,” Miyao said. “There is still much unknown about the quality of the company’s new battery.”

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