A123 Systems' Cell Family

A123 Systems veers from Wanxiang to Johnson Controls and bankruptcy

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The rescue deal between A123 Systems and Chinese autoparts maker Wanxiang ran into severe political turmoil, and today the company announced an assets sales agreement with Johnson Controls that keeps the company's technology in American hands.

A123 Systems long troubled year is finally, and unsurprisingly, heading into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy in this case does not mean a complete collapse and disappearance of A123's battery technology, but instead it is a Chapter 11 bankruptcy accompanied by a sale of technology and assets to Johnson Controls. That company already has a business in making lithium-ion batteries, making this a story of consolidation within the lithium battery industry. It also means A123 Systems is backing out of the earlier announced rescue buyout by the Chinese corporation Wanxiang, that was meeting with understandable political pressure.

The problems for A123 began last winter when A123 and Fisker Automotive jointly disclosed problems with battery packs that resulted in Fisker launching a recall to replace those battery packs. Later, A123 disclosed discovery of manufacturing defects in one of its battery pack manufacturing plants, that led to an expensive "field campaign" to replace those packs. The field campaign cost the company $55 million, throwing its financial status into a tizzy. Amid the bad news the company has also had good news, including deals to supply battery packs to SAIC (the Chinese automaker) and Tata (the Indian automaker). Another piece of good news was the Nanophosphate EXT technology that would open new markets to A123 and make their batteries even more compelling. But in June A123 did warn that the company might cease as a going concern, and finally in mid-August the company reached a rescue deal with Wanxiang, the Chinese autoparts maker, who would buy out A123. That deal was contingent on a list of conditions, and as recently as SEC filings yesterday was still in process. This morning, however, news was released that A123 is backing away from the Wanxiang deal and instead agreeing to a packaged bankruptcy and sale of technology and assets to Johnson Control.


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As Jay Friedland of Plug In America says, there will be failures in emerging technologies. Certainly there were many during the dot com era, but look how strong that sector is now. In ten years, the plug-in vehicles sector will be massive and robust. This is but a bump in the road.
So we're already moving away from the term "Electric Vehicle."
If you look closely you'll see the "we" moved away from the term Electric Vehicles some time ago. Why?... Because it's not reflective of the variety of technologies out there. Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Battery Electric Vehicles, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles and Plug-In Hybrids. All of these can claim some right to the moniker "Electric Vehicle". As a result, many have taken to using term "Plug-in Vehicles" to describe vehicles that run on electricity provided from the electric grid.