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Under Wanxiang, Li-ion battery maker A123 Systems to increase focus on low-voltage hybrids

A123 Systems LLC, a developer and manufacturer of Nanophosphate lithium iron phosphate batteries and systems, has outlined its new organizational structure and strategic focus as a member of the Wanxiang Group, which acquired nearly all of A123’s businesses last January. (Earlier post.)

A123’s transportation business continues to serve customers including BAE Systems, BMW, Daimler, GM and SAIC, among others. The production facilities in Michigan continue to produce the majority of A123’s transportation output and successfully launched the Chevy Spark EV battery system for General Motors earlier this year. (Earlier post.) However, going forward, the transportation unit will be increasingly focused on low-voltage (12- and 48-volt) hybrids to capitalize on the performance advantages of its Nanophosphate EXT chemistry and systems competence in micro-hybrids. (Earlier post.)

Under the new organization, Jason Forcier, who had served as vice president of A123 Systems’ Automotive Solutions Group since August 2009, has been appointed CEO as well as a member of its board of directors. As CEO, Forcier will oversee all battery cell and transportation-related sales, product development and manufacturing activities globally.

In his board role, he will work with the other members of the A123 board, Pin Ni (president of Wanxiang America Corp.) and Tom Corcoran, to oversee all of A123 Systems LLC. The transportation business retains the A123 Systems brand and named Ed Kopkowski, formerly the Chief Operating Officer of A123 Systems, president of the group.

Mujeeb Ijaz, former vice president of the Cell Products Group at A123 Systems, has been appointed president of A123 Venture Technologies, which operates the company’s R&D capabilities for the benefit of A123 and strategically complementary third parties.

(A123’s battery research and development organization, which successfully commercialized the Nanophosphate cathode material, has continued to contribute advances in battery materials and cell design. To support its mission of discovering, developing and commercializing further battery technology breakthroughs, the unit launched a cooperative development model under the name A123 Venture Technologies earlier this year.)

The board also oversees A123 Energy Solutions, which is the business unit focused on grid energy storage and commercial applications. Bud Collins remains president of A123 Energy Solutions.

The executive team is headquartered in A123’s Livonia, Michigan facility which has continuously produced battery systems for the company’s global list of clients since 2010.

The lithium-ion battery activities Wanxiang operated before its acquisition of A123 contribute competitive strength, particularly in China, the company noted. During the next year, these Wanxiang resources will be integrated under A123’s leadership and aligned with the substantial operations A123 has had in China for nearly 10 years.

The Wanxiang Group is one of China’s largest non-state-owned enterprises with approximately $22 billion in annual sales.

Comments

DaveD

What the hell are they talking about....low voltage? All Lithium chemistries have a voltage around 3.2V +- a .8V so I'm confused what they're saying.

You can put them in series and get any voltage you want. Now if they're saying they have more experience in control systems and BMS for low voltage systems, fine. But what the hell is particularly "low voltage" about their LiFePO4 chemistry compared to anyone else's?

HarveyD

The current A123 technology is better suited for heavy current, lower voltage applications?

Anthony F

Low Voltage is 12 or 48V systems (a regular car battery, start/stop applications, and possibly small grid storage/backup).

High Voltage is 300-600VDC systems for HEVs, PHEVs and EVs.

Ralph

If not mistaken, the Chinese government has mandated start-stop technology on all cars manufactured after a certain yaer. Given GM's Buick division is a popular product in China, they may want to leverage their A123 acquisition to take advantage of China's government mandate. And that would use low voltage start-stop 24V or 48V systems. Start-stop, while not glamorous, is one of the best ROIs in terms of reducing fuel consumption.

Engineer-Poet

And the stellar high-current performance of A123's cells makes them naturals for micro-hybrids, which have very small batteries compared to the power demands of regenerative braking, restarting, engine-off accessory drives and launch assist.

Arnold

The low voltage starter alternators(and that concept go back to the 1940's)
Are also configured as ~ sub10Kw engine assist.
No need to add high voltages.

Bernard

This announcement is telling us that they don't have any full-electric projects lined-up, and so they are concentrating on smaller projects for now.

Makes sense, I don't see any major manufacturers trusting them with a full-electric or PHEV platform at this time. They're coming out of bankruptcy and re-org, so they are a big risk until they can prove that they are stable enough to support a full platform life cycle. No manufacturer wants to gamble billions on a supplier that could close at any time.

Brotherkenny4

A123 sold for pennies on the dollar. Any auto manufacturer who was serious about electric could have bought them with pocket change. The move to 12-48V is dictated by the auto companies as a stall. This is okay though, since as DD points out the cells are the cells no matter what voltage the packs. Thus the cell manufacturers will get business either way. Hopefully next time there is a big jump in fuel prices the car companies won't be caught depending on pick-up truck and SUV sales (I am not convinced they are any different than when the failed miserably - has anyone notice how continually arrogant these total failures are? They have no remorse about their ineptitude).

On a side note; any speculation why these so-called american companies (including tesla) source their cells from primarily foriegn sources?

HarveyD

Quality, performance, availability and price are major factors in favor of imported cells and/or batteries, unless you make your own like Toyota does?

Roger Pham

Given the high power and high cycle durability of A123 batteries, they should aim to replace all lead acid batteries for new vehicles and make all of them into at least micro hybrids. All accessories should be electrified in order to reduce power consumption and increase reliability. A brushless starter/generator/motor should replace the currently less-reliable starter and generator. Likewise, the A/C compressor should be electrically-driven and hermetically-sealed to avoid freon leakage at the shaft. During acceleration, the A/C compressor and generator can stop running while run stronger during deceleration to help level load and increase engine thermal efficiency as well as overall vehicular efficiency.

It now time to replace the bulky, heavy and low-reliability lead acid battery in all new cars while make 'em all micro-hybrids, at least! However, it is the PHEV that delivers the most value for the money spent!

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