As Nissan announced the decision to build their first European lithium ion battery manufacturing facility adjacent to their massive Sunderland, UK car plant it would appear lithium ion battery fever is gripping Europe with the same ferocity as the US. The plant is intended to produce 300,000 batteries and is said to cost some $350m. In addition, Nissan plans to build a second plant in Portugal of a similar size. Nissan is not alone. Toyota has plans to build several of their current petrol models as hybrids and will probably establish a European battery making facility to meet the demand. In Germany, Daimler has plans for a 300,000 unit manufacturing joint venture and has recently invested in the US car maker Tesla to help them develop the technology for a range of plug in smart cars.
At the last count, there were reported to be 13 lithium-ion start ups planned in the US. Few are household names but many of their backers are. All are basing their business premise on unique technological developments that, they say, gives them the edge over competitors. With so much money flowing into research and so many stimulus dollars available for development it is not surprising there is such a flurry of activity. The question is how much room is there for 13 new US manufacturers, not counting those already established.
In Japan, Sanyo, Matsushita, Panasonic and Hitachi have all recently announced plans to increase Li-ion production capacity, some by a factor of 300-400%, not to mention Toyota’s Ni-MH battery production. With combined global production capacity of probably less than 500,000 hybrid vehicles this year you have to wonder where all these batteries are going but the same could be said of the number of hybrid and electric cars being planned worldwide. One projection suggests the US market will top 1mn by 2012. Time will tell if demand is equal to supply or if we have a hybrid/plug-in war during the first half of the next decade. Certainly the twin drivers of volume mass production and competition will drive down costs and ultimately increase the accessibility of what is at the moment a purchase decision made more as a life style choice than economic benefit. Lithium producers must be rubbing their hands in glee.