Chinese firm Wanxiang emerged as the winning bidder of bankrupt battery-maker A123's assets after a days long auction that lasted until nearly 4 a.m. Saturday.
The sale of A123, the recipient of a $249.1 million federal grant and tens of millions of dollars in tax credits from Michigan, has been the subject of intense political debate, with military leaders and politicians arguing that U.S.-funded technology should not be transferred to the foreign firm.
At the auction, held in Chicago, Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee and NEC Corp. of Japan teamed up in an unsuccessful effort to top the bid of Wanxiang Group Corp., a Chinese auto parts maker whose North American headquarters is in Elgin, Ill. The German electronics giant Siemens AG also submitted a qualified bid at the auction.
A source close to the deal said the purchase price was about $250 million. Wanxiang was excluded from the purchase A123’s U.S. government and military contracts. Wanxiang, a unit of China's Wanxiang Group, made an offer to purchase the lithium-ion-battery maker earlier this year when a $465 million deal collapsed.
The Wanxiang purchase of A123 marks the second major foreign purchase of a U.S. battery company backed by Department of Energy funding. Ener1, a battery maker with operations in Indiana, was snapped up in another bankruptcy by Boris Zingarevich, a Russian businessman who at one time was in business with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Global competition over battery technology has significantly intensified despite the corporate bankruptcies. Just over a week ago Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the DOE would spend an additional $120 million to enhance battery technology at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Lemont.
The hub is designed to build batteries that are five times more powerful at a fifth of the cost in five years using a strategy that has been compared to the Manhattan Project, which led to the first atomic bomb.