Hybrid and electric vehicles are center stage at this year’s Detroit Auto Show – and for good reason.
In addition to the buzz around concept cars from GM, Ford, Nissan and other traditional auto makers, Tesla, Fisker, Better Place and the other new guys in town are broadening the business and technology model for next-generation driving options. But remember to pay attention to those battery companies behind the curtain – they are about to climb into the driver’s seat for electric vehicle and smart grid innovation around the world.
As Cynthia Artin discusses in her Smart Money column this month, the connections among smart grid, smart auto and battery investment ecosystems are well established and will become even stronger in 2010. Announcements in the past few weeks put the spotlight on a new ecosystem balance of power, as companies in the battery segment become strategic ecosystem investors.
Fisker Automotive’s new $115 million round of venture capital includes a $23 million share from A123 Systems, which will also supply the advanced battery systems for the automaker going forward. After its September 2009 IPO helped to jumpstart the market last September, A123 has climbed to a $2 billion plus market capitalization – so the $23 million investment in Fisker may be just the beginning of its support for strategic ecosystem partners.
Ener1 another battery technology company with strategic electric vehicle partnerships, is tapping even deeper pockets in establishing a global ecosystem for batteries, smart autos and smart grid residential connections. In December, Ener1 reported a $20 million strategic investment from Itochu, a Japanese commercial trading company and distributor that has a long-standing relationship with EnerDel, the battery production division of Ener1 based in Indianapolis.
Itochu is an industry giant valued at about $100 billion, with strong interests in renewable energy utilities and automotive sectors as well as extensive real estate holdings in Japan. One of the projects that Itochu will support with Ener1 in Japan will be the installation of advanced battery systems for residential smart grid energy storage – starting with a pilot project in a new Tokyo residential complex. The model is to create a secondary market for the advanced batteries developed for electric vehicles. Using these batteries for power storage and for auto charging in residential settings will spread the cost of battery development and manufacturing, support smart grid load balancing and ultimately make the batteries themselves more affordable.
Commenting on this project, Charles Gassenheimer, CEO of Ener1 said, “We are pushing hard to drive pioneering initiatives like this to develop a secondary market for automotive grade lithium-ion batteries. I believe this secondary market will be a key enabler to reducing battery costs for automotive buyers and accelerating the growth of the market for electric powered vehicles.”
Naoki Ota, Chief Operating Officer for EnerDel noted, “These are the first projects anywhere in the world to bring all the critical elements of a smart, sustainable network that connects renewable energy and transportation in the places where people live and work.”
To round out this interconnected investor-investee relationship, Ener1 has made its own investment in an electric automaker. THINK, the Norwegian company behind the Think City electric car will move production to Ener1’s home state of Indiana after EnerDel’s investment made it at 31% shareholder in the previously struggling company. As with Fisker and A123, the EnerDel investment includes a strategic ecosystem partnership agreement –future Think City electric cars will incorporate Ener1 battery technology and THINK components will be incorporated into future projects with Itochu in Japan.
It may still be a small world, but the smart energy and smart auto ecosystems are expanding at an impressive clip. Discount Batteries: Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop battery Dell Inspiron 1300 laptop battery Dell Inspiron 600M laptop battery