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Are battery makers due for a “Ghosn shock”?

Battery makers in the Japanese auto market are quite nervous, with concern that “Ghosn shock” may return in the wake of low-selling lithium-ion powered electric vehicles.

In 1999, Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn put the squeeze on steel materials suppliers, pressuring them to reduce prices as part of his corporate rehabilitation agenda. That’s when the term “Ghosn shock” was invented, and it’s believed to have triggered the steel industry’s reorganization in Japan.

While Nissan has established a joint company with NEC Group producing lithium-ion batteries, the automaker wants to have access to lower prices from Hitachi. Nissan wants to add li-ion batteries produced by Hitachi to its next-generation, eco-friendly Altima and Pathfinder models, slated to be sold in the U.S. in 2013.

Lithium-ion battery manufacturers have been disappointed at the sluggish sales of electric vehicles because they expected to supply a huge amount of batteries to auto manufacturers. Now, the batteries are oversupplied and cutting into battery maker profits. For example, the Nissan Leaf sold little more than 20,000 units in 2011, only 40 percent of the company’s stated goal.
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