EnerDel forms joint venture with Chinese autoparts maker

Lithium-ion battery maker EnerDel announced Thursday that it will enter a joint venture with Wanxiang, the largest auto-parts producer in China.

Charles Gassenheimer, CEO of EnerDel parent Ener1 Inc., said EnerDel will bring the partnership “generation two” technology. Wanxiang already makes lithium-ion cells and battery packs for China’s nascent electric bus market.

Gassenheimer said EnerDel would contribute engineering and production know-how, help with the continuing build-out of Wanxiang’s Chinese plant and help address the company’s backlog of orders.

“So this is a huge business accelerator for both of us,” he said of the joint venture, which has not been named.

Work created for EnerDel in Indiana will be product engineering and manufacturing engineering of battery packs, Gassenheimer said. He did not say how many Indiana jobs would result directly from the Chinese partnership.

EnerDel in January said it would create 1,400 jobs in Indiana over the next several years, mostly at a new production plant in Axcess 70 industrial park in Hancock County. EnerDel is headquartered on the northwest side on Hague Road, where about 200 of its 260 employees and independent contractors work. It also has a facility in Noblesville.

Ener1 is publicly traded and based in New York.

An Indiana Economic Development Corp. news release said the joint venture eventually could boost EnerDel’s local employment to 3,000. But Gassenheimer said he always expected the number to be 3,000. However, he offered no date when the target would be achieved.

Wanxiang is China's largest auto parts supplier and second-largest private (non-state-owned) company, with more than $10 billion in annual revenue and 30,000 employees, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. said. According to the IEDC statement, its electric vehicle division expects to produce 2,000 powertrain and battery pack systems in 2010 for use in cars, buses and commercial utility vehicles.

Wanxiang already has an electric-vehicle division. Its hybrid and pure-electric buses are running in the Shanghai Expo, said Guogjang Yang, the Chinese Consul General in Chicago.

In addition, Wanxiang is the second-largest stakeholder in Guangzhou Automobile, which has joint ventures with Honda, Toyota and Fiat. Wanxiang's customers include SAIC, Guangzhou Automobile, Chana, Haima and Yutong, the second-largest bus company in the world.

"EnerDel brings excellent technology and experience that are in high demand in China's car and truck industries," said Pingyi Li, deputy general manager of Department of Development, Wanxiang Group, and executive director of Wanxiang Electric Vehicle Co. LTD. "Working together, we see tremendous opportunity to serve this growing market, and we are proud to have them as our partner."

EnerDel has landed a $118 million federal grant and expects to receive a Department of Energy loan for $250 million to $300 million. The company also is in line for $21 million in tax credits from the state of Indiana because it chose to build its first full-scale battery production facility in Hancock County

EnerDel formed in 1994 via the merger of the lithium-battery operations of Ener1 and Michigan-based Delphi Corp.

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