VW Links With China& s BYD for Hybrid or Electric Cars; Ford …

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VW Links With China’s BYD for Hybrid or Electric Cars; Ford May Follow

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Volkswagen has signed a letter of intent with China s BYD on hybrid or electric cars. Ford and another European automaker are rumored to be working on similar arrangements with BYD.

BYD, which stands for Build Your Dream, has been a Chinese company to watch. Formed in 1995, BYD is now the world s second-largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, mostly for cell phones, and has been making cars only since 2003.

The company has been displaying a plug-in hybrid, the BYD F3, at global auto shows, including one in Detroit.

The company s stock, traded on the Hong Kong exchange, rose on the news. The stock s value has more than doubled this year. The company got a boost last fall when MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. a company controlled by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, bought 9.9 percent of the company for $230 million.

Edmunds.com s Green Car Advisor reported a month ago a cooperative venture between VW and BYD. VW would be BYD s first major automotive partner. VW has signed similar letters of intent with Japanese battery makers Sanyo Electric Co. and Toshiba Corp.

VW s Audi brand will work with Sanyo on a 2012 vehicle.

Hybrids and electric vehicles will play an increasingly important role, Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen s executive board member for technical development, said in a statement. Particularly for the Chinese market, potential partners such as BYD could support us in quickly expanding our activities.

Lithium-ion batteries, now used in cell phones and laptop computers, are seen as a key technology for future plug-in hybrids and electric cars, as they are lighter and more powerful than the current nickel-metal hydride batteries. However, technology challenges remain and capacity is limited, with few suppliers, most of them being in Japan and Korea, and very few are in the U.S.

The U.S. Energy Department has been taking applications for $2.4 billion in funding aimed at turning the U.S. into a battery-manufacturing leader. At the deadline last week, the department said it had received 165 applications, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

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Companies vying for the federal money include General Motors, Dow Chemical Co. Johnson Controls Inc. and A123 Systems, a private battery maker backed by General Electric. States including Michigan, Kentucky and Massachusetts are also weighing in with applications, usually in alliance with their favored battery makers.

Winners will be decided by the end of July, The Wall Street Journal said.

A 2008 study by researchers at Alliance Bernstein forecast the current $9 billion-a-year auto-battery market, based on lead-acid batteries, could reach more than $150 billion by 2030.

Last week, Daimler announced that it would buy a 10 percent stake in electric-car startup Tesla Motors Inc. for a a sum in the double-digit millions of euros. Daimler and Tesla are already cooperating to integrate Tesla s lithium-ion battery packs and charging electronics into the first 1,000 electric versions of Daimler s tiny Smart Fortwo two-seater.


GM has selected South Korean battery maker LG Chem as the supplier for its upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

Michelle Krebs: is Editor-in-Chief of AutoObserver.com. Follow @AutoObserver on Twitter.

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