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Nissan, NEC Set Electric-Car Batteries for '09

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Nissan, NEC Set Electric-Car Batteries for '09
May 20, 2008
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As the race to produce environmentally friendly cars heats up, Nissan Motor Co. and technology giant NEC Corp. announced Monday that next year they will begin mass-producing lithium-ion batteries, a key technology needed for electric cars.

Nissan and NEC plan to invest a combined 12 billion yen ($115 million) in the battery project over the next three years, starting with capacity of 13,000 units a year, at first supplying batteries for Nissan forklifts. The joint venture, Automotive Energy Supply Corp., expects production of 65,000 units annually by 2011, mostly for cars. Nissan holds a 51% stake in the project with NEC and a subsidiary sharing the rest.

The auto maker's portion of the investment is a small fraction of the 10.8 trillion yen in revenue the company booked for its latest fiscal year. Yet for Nissan, which lags behind many of its competitors in developing eco-friendly vehicles, the project is critical to its hopes of becoming a leader in making electric cars. Nissan and partner Renault SA plan to offer an all-electric car in the U.S. and Japan by 2010 and globally in 2012. Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors Corp. and about a dozen other rivals are rushing to mass-produce their own lithium-ion batteries for the next generation of green vehicles.

Lithium-ion batteries -- the type used in laptop computers and cellphones -- are considered the most promising battery for electric cars because they pack twice the power of conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries and can be charged again and again. But safety remains a concern. Laptops and cellphones with lithium-ion batteries have overheated and caught fire. Nissan and NEC say their laminated cell batteries use a stable crystal structure called spinel manganese that will eliminate the risk of overheating. The companies plan to offer the batteries, which they say have proved safe in field tests, to other car companies. Other battery manufacturers also have addressed the overheating issue.

If the Nissan-NEC batteries are a success, they might help Nissan in the battle to define the next generation of green cars. Toyota has a hit with its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid. And Honda Motor Co., which also produces hybrids, is set to roll out a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle in the U.S. this summer.

The competition to mass-market electric cars is fierce. In 2010 Toyota plans to offer a plug-in version of its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid, and GM plans to release the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in car with a gasoline engine to recharge the battery while driving.

Nissan has involved various governments in encouraging the use of electric vehicles. It plans to mass market electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark starting in 2011, taking advantage of government programs such as widespread battery-recharging stations and tax incentives for consumers. Renault and Nissan are negotiating to establish similar partnerships in other countries.

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Looks like for once Toyota is getting burned (literally) for not using lithium ion.

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