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Car roundup: VW looks at electric cars in Mexico and more money for batteries

It's a big week for some of the smaller fry in electric cars--Phoenix, Altair and Ener1

Volkswagen, the German car giant, will participate in a joint venture with Phoenix Motorcars to build electric vehicles for Latin America and India.

The plant for the venture, called Pristine International, will be built in Puebla, Mexico. It is unclear what kind of vehicles these cars will be. Phoenix, though, specializes in all-electric SUVs and Trucks. The company has taken orders for over 500 electric vehicles and hopes to start delivering some to customers in 2008. Earlier, it had hoped to get cars out in 2007.

Phoenix plans to insert batteries from Reno's Altair Nanotechnologies into its cars. Altair's batteries rely on lithium titanate chemistry. These batteries don't sport the energy density of traditional lithium ion batteries, but they are also less prone to thermal runaway reactions, an industry term for explode. That's handy in a car.

Although not as active as some of the Japanese auto makers in going green, Volkswagen has been placing some small bets in alternative technologies. It recently invested in a biodiesel company with Daimler. In Europe, diesels are one of the more popular alternatives for a green car. Diesels get good mileage and the newer diesels emit fewer fumes than the older versions. Plus, the supply of biodiesel is growing.

Meanwhile, Lithium battery maker Ener1 has raised $32 million in a private placement to help it ramp up production. Ener1, based in Indiana, has a battery that's similar to Altair's. Ener1 won a contract to supply Norway's Think with batteries for its cars after Tesla Motors suspended its battery business.

Think was supposed to come out with cars this year, but Ener1 won't even send Think prototypes until March 2008.