back to article No Chinese rescue for bankrupt battery-making golden child A123

Electric car battery maker A123 Systems has filed for bankruptcy in the US and plans to sell its automotive business to American rival Johnson Controls. The new plan for the Chapter 11 firm scuppers a proposed rescue from a Chinese company, Wanxiang Group, which wanted to take an 80 per cent stake in A123 for $465m. "We …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good Lord, Johnson Controls, how technology moves on, eh? ;)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    American Innovations? This is the country that still puts cart springs under cars!!! God forbid the Chinese should steal any other steam age technology !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The US has no battery tech for China to steal

      In 2008 and every year since, the number of Chinese clean energy patents filed globally was more than those filed by US and Japanese inventors combined. Chinese investment in clean energy technology R&D is twice that of the US. And when it comes to battery technology, patents issued to both Japan and China are 5x those to the US, while South Korea leads at 10x. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is trying to put the final nail in the coffin by killing what remaining investment the US government has in alternative energy research.

  3. spencer


    It's quite depressing that their battery tech didn't even make it to the UK before the company went bust.

    Sometimes I feel like the UK is a backward country when it comes to tech.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shame@ Spencer

      Actually, the UK has had some good stuff in the EV sector, and they usually (as is the norm for EV companies) go bust, and get bought up by some other outfit. Look up Modec for a case study.

      The fundamental problem is that the market isn't ready for EV's at the balance of performance and price they can be made for, the technology takes too long to get to market, so the commercial lab pioneers go bust as well as the integrators or vehicle builders. Companies like Tesla keep going because they keep on being bunged money by optimists and those lending taxpayer's money. By 2020, Tesla project that they will have battery costs down to around $350 per kWh, and that's never going mainstream. Even selling small cars for $100,000, they made a loss of $254m on sales of $204m (ie they should be charging $200,000 per vehicle to break even, and $225k to make a fair return on investment. Put on a retail and dstribution mark up, and that's quarter of a million dollars per car.

      Given the low energy density of current battery technologies and the practical constraints (slow recharge, additional grid demand complications), these probably will never be the answer to the need for personal transport. At the moment only chemical fuels offer the energy density to produce a cheap vehicle with adequate performance, and logic suggests that we would be better off trying to develop some form of more sustainable chemical fuel than to rely on the complex and inefficient chain that electricity represents.

      1. spencer

        Re: Shame@ Spencer

        That sounds depressingly true Ledswinger.

        My complaint here is as a consumer - wanting some A123 cells, not being able to find a single supplier and ending up getting it shipped from China.

  4. Rick Brasche

    once upon a time A123 made batteries for cordless tools and did well.

    then they decided to get into electric cars and politics.

    now, they're bankrupt.

    there is no step 4. while the media/political complex makes money, it seems the political/industrial complex doesn't work so well after the politico has gotten his election contributions.

    Flame, in irony. A123 cells were hard to kill, and if any vented with flame, it was under epic stupidity or deliberate.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "then they decided to get into electric cars and politics"

      Electric cars are politics. There's no economic case, and the whole kaboodle depends on subsidies and misguided investment. Next to go down trailing smoke could well be Smith Electric Vehicles. Previous casualties include Ener1 (another battery maker who had millions of US taxpayer's money before disappearing in a puff of smoke). Aptera, Modec, Vectrix.....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This sucks

    A123's problems were traceable to a single bad decision which was to use cheap cell edge crimpers.

    This cost them mucho $$$$ in recalls, and ruined their reputation.

    Meanwhile, conventional Li-Ion with 1.6* the volumetric capacity took much of their market share.

    Classic case of right product at the right time but wrong production decision.

  6. mhenriday

    Better, of course, to file for bankruptcy and let shareholders recover a fourth of the money

    then sell to those «dastardly Chinese» ! It must say so, at least, in all those Economics 101 textbooks printed in the US - which explains why our Riksbank here in Sweden almost always awards its so-called «Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel» to professors from that particular country....


  7. ilmari

    Not mourning

    The A123 batteries were superb. Recharge in 8 minutes, brutal power density and practically indestructible.

    However, if you wanted to buy batteries and you didn't want to buy one billion batteries, they gave you the finger.

    People were buying the powertool battery packs, breaking them up to get the A123 cells inside, which was both expensive and increasingly unreliable when inside the packs you suddenly found some other crap and not the coveted A123 cells...

    Meanwhile, while A123 has been flipping the bird to customers, the chinese manufacturers have improved their products to the point where they have 1/20th to 1/10th of the power of A123, which is "good enough" for electric cars if you accept overnight charging. Unlike A123, the chinese companies are happy to sell their products both to distributors and to individuals who order a prius' worth of batteries.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You exaggerate A123's modern relevance

      I work in nanotechnology R&D, and it's remarkable how so many of the most interesting battery nanotech papers for the past half-decade have come from Chinese researchers working in Chinese university/business partnerships funded by the Chinese government. It appears that they already have patented IP that performs better than anything A123 or Altair Nano have, and at the rate they're going, it's only a matter of a year or so before they leapfrog those companies with products too. The Chinese government takes R&D investment very seriously, and they're now directly funding more US-trained PhD engineers than the US government is.

      And the Chinese seem to be happy to sell their products to everyone, so it's only a matter of time before you can pick these up on eBay to build your own high-performance electric vehicle...

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