Nissan to use Hitachi batteries / Amid fears of falling prices, cells to be used in new U.S. 2013 eco-friendly model PDF Print E-mail

Nissan Motor Co. will adopt lithium-ion batteries produced by Hitachi, Ltd., a non-affiliated company, for its eco-friendly model to be marketed in the United States for 2013, Nissan officials have said.

Although Nissan has already established a lithium-ion battery company jointly with NEC Group, it intends to obtain batteries at lower prices from Hitachi, the officials said.

If the move by Nissan is successful, pressure on battery manufacturers to cut prices is expected to intensify, industry sources said.

In 1999, Nissan President Carlos Ghosn, then the chief executive officer, narrowed down steel material suppliers and pressured them to reduce prices as part of his corporate rehabilitation project.

The action was dubbed "Ghosn shock," and is believed to have triggered the steel industry's reorganization, including the management integration of Kawasaki Steel Corp. and NKK Corp.

Lithium-ion batteries are now oversupplied due to sluggish sales of electric vehicles. The current situation may trigger a second "Ghosn shock," after the example of the steel materials' case, the sources said.


Review of procurement step

So far, auto manufacturers have avoided depending on electronic manufacturers for production of core battery components in technological development, and have chosen joint development through companies such as NEC and Panasonic Corp.

The battery makers could enjoy the advantage of supplying batteries to partner automobile firms. Such a situation could improve both the capacity and safety of the batteries produced.

However, the situation has changed as mass production of batteries progressed.

For auto companies, limiting the suppliers means no price competition. It became impossible to procure batteries cheaply by making several firms compete in prices.

Hitachi does not form partnerships with specific car companies and has supplied lithium-ion batteries for hybrid cars of U.S. giant General Motors.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started to obtain batteries only for low-priced models of electric vehicles from Toshiba Corp., not from a company jointly established with GS Yuasa Corp.

Honda Motor Co. also adopted Toshiba's batteries for the Fit EV, to be marketed this month.


Fear of price plunge

Electronic manufacturers have been disappointed at the sluggish sales of electric vehicles because they expected to supply a huge amount of batteries to auto manufacturers.

The 2011 sales of Nissan's electric vehicle Leaf were little more than 20,000 units, only 40 percent of its goal. The fiscal 2011 domestic sales of MMC's i-MiEV was almost the same as that from the previous year.

"Clearly, the batteries are oversupplied," a source in the electric machinery industry said.

Furthermore, South Korean companies have been aggressively trying to sell their products, with low prices as the main tactic.

"The performance quality of their batteries is almost identical to that of Japanese batteries," an automotive industry source said.

South Korean firms obtained a string of orders from GM, Renault and BMW.

South Korean companies had a 41 percent share of the world's lithium-ion battery market from January to March 2012, while Japanese companies had a 33 percent share.

If price competition progresses while electric vehicle sales fail to rise, battery prices apparently will continue to fall and their manufacturers will not be able to meet their projected profit goals.

The government set a goal that Japan would have a 50 percent share of the world's storage battery market, including lithium-ion batteries, by 2020 as part of its Comprehensive Strategy for the Rebirth of Japan, which the Cabinet approved in late July. But the price competition with overseas manufacturers has been fierce, and it has become a difficult goal to achieve.

(Aug. 28, 2012)

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