TOKYO--The race for lithium ion batteries is heating up, with Mitsubishi Motors saying it will build a plant to meet an expected fivefold increase in demand.
The factory will open after April 2009 and have an initial output of 200,000 battery cells a year, or enough for 2,000 cars. Mitsubishi will ramp up capacity to equip 10,000 vehicles "shortly afterward," amid higher hopes for its i MiEV electric vehicle, the company said in a statement.
Mitsubishi's new factory will be operated by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture with GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi. It will be in the western prefecture of Shiga.
Plans had called for GS Yuasa to make the batteries at an existing plant in Kyoto, with annual output for 1,000 vehicles. But the partners decided that a bigger plant was needed to meet growing demand.
The four-passenger i MiEV, which runs on lithium ion batteries, goes on sale in Japan next summer. The car also will be tested in California this year to evaluate a U.S. launch.
The zero-emissions i MiEV is the centerpiece of Mitsubishi's effort to leapfrog Japanese rivals in the green car race. Lithium ion batteries are seen as the key because they are lighter and more powerful than the current nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrid vehicles.
Rivals also are developing lithium ion batteries. Nissan has a venture with NEC and plans to start production next year. Toyota is teaming with Matsushita Electric Industrial on its own battery technology.
(Source: Automotive News)