A123 Thinks Big about Electric Cars from Norway

3/6/08

Local battery powerhouse A123Systems is delving further into the automotive market, thanks to a three-way deal involving itself, Norwegian electric car company Think, and General Electric. A123 has signed a deal to put its lithium-ion rechargeable batteries into Think’s vehicles.

Think is making an electric car, the City, that has a top speed of 60 mph and can go about 120 miles between recharges. It’s already on sale in Norway, and should be available internationally later this year. The company is also developing the Ox, a five-seater it says is close in size to an SUV, but lighter and more aerodynamic. That’s due out in 2009. (I didn’t speak to anyone at Think, but I’m guessing the name “Ox” is supposed to suggest oxygen, rather than a lumbering beast of burden. Maybe they’ll rename it if they move into the American market.)

Both vehicles are designed to rely on either a sodium or a lithium battery. In addition to A123, which makes the “Nanophosphate” lithium-ion battery, Think is working with Enerdel of Indianpolis, which makes a lithium-manganese system.

A123 batteries contain nanomaterials that let them hold more energy, run longer, and recharge faster than traditional lithium-ion systems. To build batteries for electric cars, the company has to take its individual battery cells and design them to operate in connected stacks that work with the car’s electrical system. The two vehicles, which will have different operating ranges, will require two different battery-pack designs, says David Vieau, CEO of A123. That’s why A123 is teaming up with battery-pack design experts at GE’s Global Research Center. The collaboration will “accelerate the timeline,” according to Vieu.

Meanwhile, another branch of General Electric, GE Energy Financial Services, is putting money into both companies to help advance the development of the electric cars. GE invested $4 million in Think, and increased its investment in A123Systems to more than $20 million. Vieau wouldn’t say exactly how much GE put in as part of this latest deal, but overall it’s the largest cash investor in A123, which has raised $148 million in financing to date.

He said both GE and A123 had been in talks with Think about battery systems, and the multi-party deal just made sense. “All of it kind of came together at the same time,” he says.

A123 has also been working with General Motors to provide the battery for GM’s electric vehicle, the Volt, and with BAE Systems to help power hybrid buses. Vieau says the deal with Think is yet another step into the transportation market.

But that doesn’t mean it will be solely a car parts company. A123 is also continuing its relationship with Black & Decker—among its first commercial products were batteries for high-power, longer lasting power tools. Still, Vieau says, “The transportation market is going to be our largest overall.”

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  • Sick and Tired

    I wish we could get a car company involved that is just starting out, that has no hidden aggenda. I’m not just talking about GM, but all of them. I wish people would just wake up! If the car companies wanted good working electric cars we would have them right now! Ones that don’t have a bunch of lame batteries that are not worth a crap on purpose so no one will want them, I mean they say WOW! We can get 40 miles a gallon on gas cars, well if I’m not mistaken Shelby had a carbrator that got 100 miles a gallon in the 60′s, sold it to ford and then they sit on the technology given to them. That’s just B.S. I hope your batterey is good and that they really bring it out.So we can buy it I love the idea of battery powered cars, why not solar/battery powered cars? with no gas at all. What they wouldn’t make as much money doing that would they? I hope they do one day, and not say it will be out in 7 yrs, or some lame false number. I’m just sick and tired of all the technology of the past 20 years have been greatly improved, but our cars have fallen backwards,as far as mpg, could someone please explain that one to me, cause we have alot of smart people around the world, but yet we can’t get more per gal? Well I hope A123 doesn’t sell out to any car or oil company, if they do their car will never do good. Good Luck!

  • Selena

    I would like to purchase one of these new think cars. I own 3 of the original think cars from 2002. can anyone send me information on purchasing a new one??

  • Chris Ott

    They’ve had these better batteries since 1995. http://www.physorg.com/news3539.html I don’t know what all the stalling is about? It’s hard to take this R&D seriously. But let’s hope.

  • Craig

    Selena:
    Buying a Think. As I understand it, the Think “will”(read-maybe) be sold in the USA
    sometime in 2009. I have a friend in Norway. She says they are being sold, there, now. Shipping from Oslo to California could be done, I think it is around $2500 (but I may be way off). Vacationing in Norway soon?
    Craig

  • khooper

    An interesting concept and the range sounds good for an electric, but the $100 – 200 rental fee, in addition to a relatively high price for the vehicle itself, may prove difficult to overcome. Upgrading cars means upgrading car parts also? Uhm.. maybe carpartswholesale.com will be upgrading too

  • owlafaye

    Until you can buy a Think outright…no strings attached…it will continue to be a “smoke & mirrors” project.

  • Tom

    What I don’t understand is that we had the GM EV1 in 1996 which got 125 miles to a charge and now in 2010 we get a Volt that only gets 40 miles to charge. Isn’t this backwards? Why can’t G M bring back the EV 1? I didn’t know they even existed until they destroyed them.

  • Mike Jaye

    Tom,
    GM can’t bring back the EV1 because it was licensed to Saturn, which they no longer own. It is my understanding the EV1 was a project, nothing more. GM never planned to market the cars to the general public, but when they became popular the story was the oil companies got to them. Truth be told the Spring Hill plant was not equipped to handle building them and Saturn was losing money. So the EV1 project was scrapped. And if I remember correctly, the EV1 could get about 80 miles on a full charge. It also doesn’t have all the features the Volt is supposed to have. Being a Saturn owner I’m wondering if the Penske people will consider bringing back a version of the EV1 when they take over production in 2011. Now that would be interesting.