GS Yuasa to Triple Lithium-Ion Battery Cell Production for Honda's Plug-in Vehicles

By · February 24, 2012

Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid

GS Yuasa will triple is lithium-ion cell production to satisfy Honda's anticipated demand for its upcoming Accord Plug-in Hybrid.

In December, I visited Japan to drive Honda's upcoming plug-in cars: the Honda Fit EV and the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid. I came away with two distinct impressions: first, that the combination of power and utility could make either of those cars (or both) stand-out choices on the plug-in market. And second, unfortunately, that Honda's interest in producing and marketing electric cars is lukewarm at best.

Let me clarify. Honda President Takanobu, and other company executives, were certainly dismissive of pure electric cars—but had a more sanguine view of hybrids, presumably plug-in hybrids as well. "When I say hybrids, there are different types of hybrids," he said. "Honda has to think about what would be best for each of the categories."

So, while Honda will produce a mere 1,100 Honda Fit EVs over the next three years, and only make them available as a lease, there are new signs that the company will be forthcoming with plug-in hybrids. I haven't seen any mention of production or sales targets—but regardless of official statements, most analysts dismiss posturing, and instead speak directly with suppliers to learn what automakers have in mind.

Boosting Production Times Three

Earlier this month, Nikkei reported that GS Yuasa Corporation, one of Honda's key lithium-ion battery suppliers, plans to crank up its lithium-ion battery output for Honda to 15 million cells by fall of 2012. That's three times its current production capacity for Honda. Nikkei adds, "Its output capacity will be increased to also supply batteries for a plug-in hybrid that Honda plans to launch in Japan and the US later this year."

The assumption is that the primary goal of the increase is to increase output for the Honda Civic Hybrid, the company's first hybrid to use lithium ion technology. I'm not sure how big the market for Civic Hybrid is in Asia, but if U.S. sales numbers are any indication, it's relatively small. In 2011, Honda sold just 4,700 Honda Civic Hybrids, a 36-percent decrease from 2010. In an increasingly competitive hybrid market, I don't see the Civic Hybrid suddenly taking off.

The production hike will be achieved by expanding facilities at a Kyoto plant of Blue Energy Co., a joint venture with Honda, which currently produces five million cells annually, mainly for the Civic Hybrid sold throughout North America. The hike in production capacity will provide Honda with enough lithium-ion cells to power as many as 300,000 hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles per year. There's a huge gap between the 4,700 Civic Hybrids sold in the U.S. in 2011, and capacity for 300,000 lithium-ion-powered vehicles. The increase in production probably suggests that Honda's other hybrids will soon switch to lithium, but a plug-in fan can't help but read this increase in production capability as a hopeful sign for the Accord Plug-in Hybrid and other future Honda plug-ins.

According to Nikkei, the production hike will cost about 10 billion yen (US $130 million)."

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