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USA: Lackluster electric car sales imperil Michigan’s battery firms

Sometime this summer, one of the world’s most advanced lithium-ion battery manufacturing plants will officially open in Midland.

The $320-million, 400,000-square-foot Dow Kokam facility will join four other battery-cell plants in Michigan, which has become a hub for U.S. electric vehicle battery production. Dow Kokam has already hired 95 operators, engineers and others who are undergoing training.

“We’re a start-up company in a start-up industry,” said David Pankratz, Dow Kokam’s vice president of operations.

But any celebration could be short-lived, experts say. Lackluster sales of electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, and the bankruptcies of several fledgling niche automakers in this emerging sector are raising questions about whether demand will be high enough to sustain all five plants. Last fall, A123 Systems, which owns two of the factories, laid off 125 Michigan workers because of reduced orders from a key customer. It has called back 50 of these employees so far but is grappling with concerns about the company’s finances in the wake of a costly battery recall campaign
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