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carmakers rush to unveil lithium ion vehicles

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    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/71b88eca-ea13-11dc-b3c9-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1

    Carmakers rush to unveil lithium-ion vehicles

    By John Reed in Geneva

    Published: March 4 2008 18:04 | Last updated: March 4 2008 18:04

    General Motors will begin installing powerful lithium-ion batteries in its hybrid vehicles in two years� time in another sign that the potentially groundbreaking technology is nearing widespread adoption by the car industry.

    The US carmaker on Tuesday announced plans to introduce the batteries, which it said would make its next generation of hybrid vehicles three times more powerful than its current ones, in its Saturn Vue Green Line, Saturn Aura Green Line and Chevrolet Malibu hybrids, starting in North America in 2010.

    Hitachi Vehicle Energy, a subsidiary of Japan�s Hitachi, is to supply the batteries. GM said it expected sales of its next-generation hybrids could eventually exceed 100,000 units per year.

    Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in laptops, mobile phones, and other small appliances, but carmakers are still working to develop counterparts that are safe, powerful, and cost-effective enough to use in cars.

    As more car companies such as GM begin using the batteries, their cost per unit is expected to fall.

    Daimler announced last week that it would be using lithium-ion batteries next year in its S400 BlueHybrid luxury sedan. Continental is supplying Daimler with the batteries. Manfred Wennemer, Continental�s chief executive, said on Tuesday that his company had also been in the running to supply the batteries to GM, alongside another unnamed Asian company.

    Lithium-ion batteries promise to make a new generation of lower-emission hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric vehicles possible by delivering more power relative to their size. GM�s current hybrids, and those of Toyota, its biggest competitor, use nickel-metal hydride batteries. However, lithium-ion batteries have a tendency to overheat, presenting carmakers with potentially serious quality and product liability risks.

    Toyota, GM�s largest global competitor, recently said that it planned to begin mass production of lithium-ion batteries for cars, and install them in its planned plug-in hybrid car by 2010.

    Katsuaki Watanabe, Toyota�s president, said in Geneva on Tuesday that he had asked his engineers to �accelerate the process,� adding: �At the mass production stage, we need to ensure quality...that is really the key.�

    Honda, Japan�s second-largest carmaker, will use a lithium-ion battery in the FCX Clarity, its hydrogen-fuel cell car due to launch in the US later this year. However, when asked on Tuesday about mass producing the batteries, Takeo Fukui, the company�s chief executive, said: �In terms of reliability and durability we haven�t reached the point where we can do it.�

    Alongside the hybrid version of its Civic compact car, Honda is developing an all-new hybrid due to debut next year.

    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
 
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