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U.S. battery maker assets go to Chinese firm

Posting in Energy

Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang Group beat out Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, Siemens and Japan's NEC in an auction for the assets of A123 Systems, the bankrupt U.S. lithium-ion battery maker that attracted major investors and landed a $249 million federal grant through the Obama Administration's loan program for electric vehicles.

Wanxiang will acquire A123's automotive, grid and commercial business assets for $256.6 million, including all technology, products, customer contracts and US factories in Michigan, Massachusetts and Missouri as well its cathode powder operations in China, A123 said in a statement issued Sunday. The deal also includes A123's equity interest in Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems, the company's joint venture with Shanghai Automotive.

The sale excludes A123's government-based business and its all military contracts, said A123. That segment of the company was purchased for $2.25 million by Illinois-based company Navitas Systems.

It's not entirely clear what will happen to A123's factories or its employees. However, Wanxiang America President Pin Ni said the company plans to build on the engineering and manufacturing capabilities A123 established in the U.S. and is committed to making a long-term investment in the company.

Wanxiang's bid topped those of other companies vying for the US electric car battery maker, including Johnson Controls, which tried to buy A123 as it was entering into bankruptcy.

A123 Systems and its two affiliates filed for bankruptcy in October with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., a day after missing a deadline make a $2.8 million interest payment to bondholders. At the time, Johnson Controls was set to acquire A123's automotive business assets and license back to battery maker certain technology for its grid, commercial and government businesses.

That deal came just two months after A123 said it had reached a non-binding agreement with Wanxiang Group for a $450 million investment in return for an 80 percent stake in the company.

Wanxiang has made a practice of investing in ailing U.S. factories, mainly in the Midwest, reported Bloomberg Businessweek. The company has invested in some two dozen U.S. companies, including a $1.25 billion investment in Great Point Energy, a Massachusetts-based company that converts coal to natural gas. Wanxiang's deal to buy A123's assets is its fifth clean energy investment in the U.S. in 2012, the company said in a statement.

Photo: A123 Systems

— By on December 10, 2012, 1:35 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure