In Ironic Twist, A123 Bankruptcy Shows Value of Electric Car Technology

October 31, 2012 | 8:55 am
David Friedman
Former contributor

Lost in the noise of the news of battery maker A123’s bankruptcy filing is an ongoing fight over who will get their hands on A123’s battery technology and manufacturing capacity. If clean tech like electric vehicle batteries was such a bad bet, as naysayers have tried to claim, you’d think nobody would touch the assets with a 10-foot pole. But, the naysayers are wrong.

Not one, but two companies are vying for control of battery assets

The competition over the assets of battery maker A123 is good news for the manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Wisconsin’s Johnson Controls Inc. and China’s Wanxiang have been making bids and/or threatening legal action as they jockey for position in the race to snatch up the assets of A123. Those assets include battery technologies, and some contracts, for hybrid and electric vehicles, U.S. military applications, electric grid/backup power storage, and replacements for lead-acid batteries in a wide variety of other applications. A123 also has U.S. research and manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

Wanxiang had been looking to invest in A123 as far back as August, but that effort ruffled feathers due to the risk of losing valuable intellectual capital to China, not to mention the A123 military contracts. Johnson Controls then stepped in around the time of the A123 bankruptcy, which appears to be the catalyst for financial and legal wrangling that is far beyond my expertise to follow.

A bargain for all the right reasons

Whoever gets the assets, it will be a bargain for all the right reasons. These companies would not be fighting to get ahold of A123’s technology and factories if they were worthless. They know better than to throw good money after bad.

Instead, they realize that electric cars are charging forward, as I noted in the National Journal’s blog last week. With triple the sales of last year and a promising future thanks to long-sighted investors and smart policies like government support for clean tech and California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle program, electric cars can move us closer to a Half the Oil future.

Photo credit: A123 Systems