A123 Back With Better Ideas, More Cash and Light Batteries

A123's new 12-volt low-voltage lithium-ion battery

A123′s new 12-volt low-voltage lithium-ion battery

Few people familiar with the situation will ever forget battery maker A123′s sudden rise and even faster fall from grace. It went from from plucky, brilliant upstart to bankruptcy in only a few years.

But after being purchased by a Chinese supplier conglomerate — Wanxiang Group — after emerging from bankruptcy court in 2013, A123 has spent the last year and half getting itself refocused and re-energized. Gone were many top executives, and in return, a serious investment by its new parent into not only building batteries more efficiently, but also expanding into new areas of the market.

“The story of A123 has been a negative one,” said CEO Jason Forcier in an interview with Automotive News. “But we’ve turned a corner and we’re more competitive than ever been in a growing market.”

While A123 still offers the large high-voltage lithium-ion packs for “pure” electric vehicles, the company has started to roll out smaller low-voltage cells for the “micro-hybrid” market, which are vehicles that only generate small amounts of energy through regenerative braking.

A123′s new offerings only weigh 20 pounds — about half of a traditional lead-acid battery — and given the extreme focus now being put towards saving weight by auto manufacturers, plays well into their strategies. Forcier figures that between current contracts for low-voltage batteries with McLaren, Ferrari and Daimler, A123 will supply 100,000 units over the next couple years.

Those are in addition to the larger packs presently found in vehicles like the Chevrolet Spark EV, and BMW’s hybridized trio of sedans — the 3-, 5- and 7-Series — along with Chinese auto giant SAIC.

“We’re seeing a strong pipeline of new business, which we weren’t seeing a year ago,” Forcier said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re the largest lithium-ion battery maker in Michigan, and we’re coming back.”

Automotive News