Posted by Dale Buss on August 8, 2012 05:53 PM
The auto industry continues to move in fits and starts — some huge, some tiny — toward the future of the electrified automobile. It hasn't been pretty getting this far, and there will be many ups and downs for electric vehicles before U.S. and global consumers presumably someday embrace them.
One of the inevitable shifts along that path came today when a Chinese auto-parts company rescued cash-strapped A123 Systems, an American lithium-ion battery maker for the U.S. electrified-car market that has been in lots of financial trouble in part because of how slowly the market has developed. Wanxiang can acquire up to 80 percent of A123 Systems in return for an investment of up to $450 million.
Quickly, a very public critic of the deal emerged: Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman, in a column on Forbes.com. The father of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is opposed to the "green-technology" mandate on the U.S. auto industry by the Obama administration, which had made a $249-million loan to A123 Systems.
Lutz characterized the acquisition of the high-tech company by the Chinese concern as a downfall of trying to "mandate" an EV-car market to an American public that isn't ready for it yet.
Meanwhile, Chrysler executives appearing at an industry conference in Michigan this week said that their company finally is ready to make some electric versions of its vehicles. "We do believe in electrification, sparingly and for the right kinds of targeted applications," said Bob Lee, a Chrysler VP, according to Automotive News.
The company has badly trailed major competitors in developing and introducing both hybrids and EVs. One reason is that it was strapped for resources for several years when other automakers were working on such vehicles. And since Fiat picked up Chrysler in 2009, CEO Sergio Marchionne hasn't yet made electrification a huge priority, preferring to focus on upgrading the interiors and gasoline fuel economy of Chrysler models and also toying with compressed natural gas systems.
But Chrysler does plan to begin production of a Fiat 500 small electric car later this year and begin selling that model in 2013.