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USA: A123 Systems on roller coaster ride between Fisker, Tata and SAIC

Startup lithium battery manufacturer A123 Systems is in a rocky period, between troubles at Fisker Automotive, and new deals with Tata and SAIC, the largest automakers in India and China respectively.

A123 Systems is on a roller coaster of a ride right now. The company has announced several new deals in recent weeks, but any good news is overshadowed by its troubled major customer, Fisker Automotive. It’s appears so bad that some are asking whether this is the end for A123 Systems.

Today A123 Systems and SAIC Motor, the largest automaker in China, announced a deal to expand the partnership between the two companies, part of which is to explore building a manufacturing facility in China for A123’s batteries. The factory is expected to serve the local market (China), and should “cost advantage for A123’s technology in the Chinese market.” A123 already supplies battery packs for three of four electric vehicles built by SAIC.

Yesterday the company announced it would supply complete battery packs to Tata Motors, the largest automaker in India. In this case the batteries are intended for use in “multiple powertrain architectures” to be implemented in “a wide variety of commercial vehicles.” Dr. Timothy Leverton, Head – Advanced and Product Engineering at Tata Motors said “We consider hybridization to be an integral component of Tata Motor’s overall strategy, and hybridization of our commercial vehicles is particularly important to our global customers for reducing the emissions and increasing fuel efficiency of their fleets.”

These two deals add to other good news including deals to supply batteries to several other automakers, as well as for grid energy storage deployments. However, hanging over this is news about Fisker Automotive, a company that is both A123’s biggest customer as well as an investment by A123 in Fisker’s business. In some respects the news between A123 Systems and Fisker Automotive has eerie parallels to the news between Ener1, its subsidiary EnerDel, and that companies formerly largest customer, Think Global. It is those parallels which have some pondering whether A123 is also headed for bankruptcy, a process that Ener1 is currently undergoing.
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