In somewhat of a surprise move Nissan and NEC announced today that they have signed an agreement to establish a joint-venture company, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), to develop and market advanced lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications with production starting in 2009.
According to their press release:
AESC will mass produce lithium-ion batteries with a set of unique properties that makes them a highly competitive and appealing energy-generation solution for automotive application. Among the multiple advantages that the new batteries will offer are cutting-edge and environmentally-friendly technology, cost competitiveness, superior performance, safety, and versatility.
"Together, Nissan and NEC's engineers have addressed the key challenges of cost, performance, safety and reliability - we believe that we have a breakthrough technology in the lithium-ion battery product we will produce. Through AESC, this battery will be made available to all automakers, and we expect this could further accelerate the development of future generations of eco-friendly vehicles," explained Carlos Tavares, Executive Vice President of Nissan.
Nissan and NEC Group will invest 490 million yen (approx. USD 4.1 million) in the partnership. AESC is expected to begin operations by the end of April, 2007, and will operate as an independent company. The new company will focus on the development and marketing of advanced lithium-ion batteries, designed to power future generations of electric-powered vehicles. After one year, the partnership will be expanded to include mass production and sales. The new joint venture will become the leading company in mass production of lithium-ion batteries for the global automotive community using pioneering technologies developed by Nissan and NEC Group.
While it was known that these companies were working on Li-ion batteries this must come as a blow to Altair, Valance and A123Systems that the announcement came at this time. These relative small companies are just starting to build up their technologies and production capabilities and to have these massive Japanese companies come in at this time could be devastating to them. A123 has the backing of USABC so it is better off than the other two.
AESC's time frame for production is in line to be used in Nissan's previously announced in-house developed hybrid system. However their batteries will be available to all automotive companies.
General Motors has development contracts to develop batteries for the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid SUV and the production model of the Chevrolet Volt with a joint venture between Johnson Controls and Saft and Cobasys, a joint venture between Chevron and Energy Conversion Devices, Cobasys is working in partnership with A123Systems. Two test batteries, one from Cobasys – A123Systems and the other from Johnson Controls – Saft, will be evaluated in prototype Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrids beginning later this year. Johnson Controls-Saft is a combination that produces more automotive batteries than anyone else in the world and is a power to be reckoned with.
Toyota Motors has said that it will use lithium-ion batteries in its third generation hybrid vehicles due out in late 2008 or 2009. Panasonic EV Energy Co. Ltd., a joint venture between Toyota and Matsushita Electric Industrial is developing batteries for Toyota.
On the other hand this new company will most likely have the ability to mass produce these batteries from the get go thus reducing the cost to what hopefully will be a more affordable price.