The Chinese government has a goal: rule the global electric-car market by mid-decade. Of China’s 47 car companies, the Shenzhen-based BYD, which says it will begin selling its e6 EV in the U.S. this year, gets the most buzz. Fresh off a $230-million investment by Warren Buffett, BYD wants to surpass Toyota as the world’s largest car company by 2025, and it has an army of 30,000 workers living in high-rise dorms on its four-square-mile campus to make it happen.
Japanese companies have dominated lithium-ion manufacturing since Sony first commercialized the technology in 1991. Those companies have joined Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota in the scramble for a place in the new electric-car industry.
An American arm of the Korean company LG Chem will build batteries for the Chevy Volt.
An intellectual hub for the American electric-car movement, the Bay Area is home to Tesla Motors and various electric-car infrastructure companies. San Francisco is already installing charging stations for the early-adopter market. Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory help supply the EV scene with brainiacs, while the Bay Area’s venture capitalists keep the funding flowing.
Luxury plug-in-hybrid start-up Fisker Automotive is here, along with Coda, an American company scheduled to bring Chinese-built electric cars to the States later this year.
The Big Three automakers are still standing, and at least the two biggest among them, GM and Ford, are betting on electrification. In addition to the Chevy Volt, GM’s Cadillac has designed a plug-in concept that may become reality. Ford’s all-electric Focus and upcoming plug-in hybrid are due out in the next two years. At least four battery companies are building automotive-grade lithium-ion cell factories in Michigan, and GM’s new battery-pack assembly plant began producing Volt batteries in January.
The CEO of the Indianapolis-based lithium-ion company EnerDel calls greater Indy the “Silicon Valley of the auto industry.” EnerDel, which makes EV batteries for Volvo, Think and others, is building a third factory here, and electric-drive-component suppliers such as Delphi, Allison Transmission and Remy are also in the area.
Nissan will build up to 150,000 Leaf electric cars per year at its plant in Smyrna by 2012. It will make the batteries for those cars in a Tennessee factory it’s building with a $1.4-billion loan from the DOE.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a hotbed of advanced energy-storage research, and its professors have a knack for turning lab work into companies. The best known is the lithium-ion start-up A123 Systems. A123 lost its bid to build batteries for the Chevy Volt, but it’s still involved in development projects with GM, and it’s selling batteries to Cessna (for starting jet engines), BAE Systems (for hybrid city buses in New York, Toronto and San Francisco), Fisker and electric utilities, which it supplies with shipping-container-size “grid batteries.” Boston Power, another battery start-up here, is developing EVs with Saab and the Swedish government.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.