Navigant Research: LG Chem and Johnson Controls Leading EV Battery Makers

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries have risen as leaders in the emerging market for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Steady but gradual growth in sales of electric vehicles, however, has limited opportunities for makers of advanced batteries, including Li-ion batteries. Several companies have either entered bankruptcy or shut down, leaving a few hardy firms struggling to remain solvent until the EV market creates a growing worldwide demand for electric drivetrains.

According to a new Leaderboard report published by Navigant Research, LG Chem and Johnson Controls currently lead the EV battery market in terms of both strategy and execution.

Although the majority of automobiles with traction batteries on the road have nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cells, most new production vehicles will be shipped with Li-ion batteries in the coming years.

Navigant Research expects the industry to produce 49 gigawatt-hour of battery capacity for vehicles in 2020, a more than tenfold increase over 2013 production numbers.

“The lithium ion battery manufacturing space is not for the weak of heart,” says Sam Jaffe, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “The electric vehicle market is growing slowly and the battery manufacturers are engaged in a Darwinian fight for survival.”

Three companies (LG Chem, Johnson Controls, and AESC) were ranked as “Leaders” in the report’s Leaderboard Grid.

South Korea-based LG Chem surprised many in the automotive field by winning the Chevrolet Volt contract in 2008, and has since followed through with several other major automotive contracts.

Deciding not to invest in building factories to serve a market that has not fully appeared yet, Johnson Controls has focused its strategy on developing the second generation of batteries. Its NMC battery chemistry, which will be officially launched late in 2013 or early in 2014, is highly regarded by many potential buyers and could win some of the world’s biggest automotive contracts.

AESC, the joint venture between Nissan Motor Company and NEC, is the only manufacturer of Li-ion cells that is directly owned by an automotive manufacturer, and the company has produced significant volumes of batteries, primarily for the Nissan Leaf.

The report, “Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Lithium Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles”, examines the strategy and execution of 11 Li-ion battery vendors that are active in the electric vehicle market and rates them on 13 criteria, including systems integration, safety engineering, chemistry performance, geographic reach, manufacturing and product performance, pricing, and overall corporate financial health.

Using Navigant Research’s proprietary Leaderboard methodology, vendors are profiled, rated, and ranked with the goal of providing industry participants with an objective assessment of these companies’ relative strengths and weaknesses in the global electric vehicle battery market.