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Posted on April 19, 2013 by  & 

Lithium-ion batteries: Further GS Yuasa troubles

Toyo-keizai Online, Yomiuri-online and Livedoor Online News in Japan have recently reported in Japanese on further problems with the large lithium-ion batteries produced by GS Yuasa, the Japanese company involved in the grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner worldwide due to fires in its lithium-ion batteries but also supplying lithium-ion batteries to the International Space Station.
This time it is the recently launched Mitsubishi Motors Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle PHEV at a time when it has attracted double the targeted level of orders at about 8000. During checking, one had its GS Yuasa lithium-ion battery catch fire, so Mitsubishi Motors has requested owners with versions incorporating this battery not to charge it.
Injecting capital, Mitsubishi Shoji and Mitsubishi Motors participated in a joint venture with GS Yuasa to develop and make these batteries. The Japanese media speculate that efficiency improvements in December to the production line of this joint venture Lithium Energy may have led to the problem. GS Yuasa expects to take 13 weeks to find a solution. Meanwhile, struggling Mitsubishi Motors has stopped all sales of its EVs and HEVs except where a Toshiba lithium-ion battery is fitted instead of the GS Yuasa one. There are no product recalls as yet.
Analysts IDTechEx Research, with the world's widest range of reports on electric vehicles for land, water and air, including their components and subsystems, comments as follows:
The shakeout of the lithium-ion battery business will continue over the coming decade because about 150 manufacturers of these batteries rising to 200 is too much to efficiently serve the market, particularly given that Nissan and Toyota make many of their own in joint ventures AESC and Primearth respectively. Nissan is global leader in pure electric fully-homologated cars and Toyota is world number one in electric vehicles overall, thanks to its world leadership in electric forklifts, hybrid cars and electric buses. IDTechEx estimates that Toyota has around 50% of the global market for electric vehicles land, water and air with thousands of other manufacturers of hybrid and pure electric EVs, land, water and air, crowding into the other 50% of the market.
In the largest global value market sector for large lithium-ion batteries, that for ones for traction in vehicles and for major static power management, the largest market share goes to Panasonic, AESC, LG Chem and Samsung. Specialist suppliers such as Hitachi and Toshiba are also in a relatively strong position, some having captive customers for batteries in their forklift and other divisions. By contrast, GS Yuasa is in an exposed position trying to compete head on with the giants but without the experience of volume manufacture or the strength of financial backing of the leaders.
On-going, the Outlander accelerates the shakeout of manufacturers of intermediate size, the demise of Enersys and A123 Systems being evidence of this in the recent past. Further pressure comes from the fact that most of the orders for big lithium-ion traction batteries have been made for the next three years with only four companies taking most of them.
Things are tough for those seeking to create large lithium-ion success for another reason too. The technology is moving on at a blistering pace. The Toshiba battery has a lithium titanate based anode for fast charge/discharge and some gain in safety for example. On the other hand, the nuclear option is increasingly taken where much safer, "fit and forget" supercapacitors are used to replace lithium-ion batteries to give lower cost of life albeit with higher up-front cost and a need to design round the shortcomings. For instance, this approach, often involving frequent ultra-fast charging, has sometimes worked with hybrid buses, racing cars and fuel cell cars and with pure electric buses and various experimental vehicles.
For more see these IDTechEx Research reports:
Also, for those seeking the full picture, with forecasts, of what electric vehicle sales will dominate by land, water and air over the coming decade, see Hybrid and Electric Vehicles for Land, Water and Air 2013-2023: Forecasts, Technologies, Players.
Author: Mayumi Kozakai, Research Coordinator, IDTechEx
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