Friday, August 22, 2008

EnerDel is set to hire 277 workers at Indianapolis, In plant...

EnerDel will hire hundreds at 2 sites
Lithium-ion battery deal for Think electric vehicle may return city to roots

Once a leader in producing electric cars, Indiana someday could become the center of the nation's new electric car business.
State officials raised the prospect Thursday when Indianapolis battery researcher EnerDel confirmed it will become one of the world's first companies to ramp up output of high-tech batteries for cars designed to run entirely on electricity.

EnerDel, a blend of Japanese and American engineers and Russian capital, said it will hire about 277 production workers and engineers in Indianapolis and Noblesville to make lithium-ion batteries for export to Think Global, a new car company in Norway.
If the Think cars prove reliable in Europe, the company could open an Indiana car assembly plant even as major automakers turn to EnerDel for high-volume production of the innovative batteries able to move a car 110 miles before requiring recharging.
"We aim to be a winner," Ulrik Grape, EnerDel's president and chief executive officer, told the company's nearly 100 employees at a news conference announcing the production ramp-up for Think.
In an era of costly fuel, drivers want better mileage. But no big car company ever has touted purely electric cars as a solution to the nation's fuel woes. The reason has been the limited driving range of conventional batteries.
Now, Think Global and a bevy of other small companies are trying to edge into the market with a battery capable of storing more than 10 times the electricity found in the battery of a Toyota Prius hybrid.
Think Global, backed by investors in high technology including Rockport Capital of Boston, plans to make about 10,000 electric cars a year powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Think could put a production line in the U.S. as early as 2011 to assemble electric cars, said Richard Canny, Think chief executive officer. Plans call for launching the 155-mile range Think Ox model in the United States. The Ox would be an upgraded version of Europe's Think City and would meet U.S. highway regulations.
"Our immediate goal is to ramp up production here," said Canny, in a phone interview from his office in Norway. An Australian, he earlier this year headed strategic planning at Ford Motor Co. in Michigan,
"There's no doubt we'll come to the U.S. The question is when. On one hand, we'd want to be close to where our customers are. On the other, there are good technical capabilities in the Midwest," Canny said, referring to the region's talented technical employees.
Automakers have honed gasoline engines for better mileage and also brought out hybrids that mate electric motors with smaller gas engines. But conventional batteries deterred carmakers from electric cars. Four years ago, General Motors scrapped the last of its California EV-1 electric car program, saying the 40-mile to 50-mile driving range was insufficient.
Hybrids like the Prius can run 40 to 50 miles per gallon, but still depend on gas engines and use relatively small batteries. The nickel metal hydride battery in the Prius stores about 2.6 kilowatt hours of electricity, compared with 26 kilowatt hours in EnerDel's 600-pound battery pack.
EnerDel, relying on innovative Japanese chemistry and former GM Delphi battery engineers, designed the lithium-ion battery in a quick program that has enabled the company to reach market sooner than most other battery researchers, Grape said.
Think Global tested lithium-ion batteries from more than a dozen developers and selected three suppliers: EnerDel; A123 of Watertown, Mass.; and Mes-dea of Switzerland.
By expanding capacity in Indianapolis and Noblesville, EnerDel could make 300,000 batteries a year, Grape said. Indianapolis will make the cells while Noblesville assembles the battery packs.
If the company lands new contracts, EnerDel could open a third battery plant in Indiana covering more than 300,000 square feet and employing more than 450 workers. Criteria for that plant would include access to rail, ceilings 25 feet high, good roads to withstand the heavy batteries, and proximity to engineers and production workers capable of advanced manufacturing.
State officials say if the electric car catches on in America, Indiana can become a center for production by drawing on resources of area enterprises, such as Delphi electronics in Kokomo and Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, a U.S. Navy facility southwest of Bloomington known as a leader in battery storage technology.
"Our state is perfectly positioned to do the right thing and move fast and lead this revolution," said Gov. Mitch Daniels at the news conference. Later, he noted the state would try to persuade Think to locate the vehicle assembly plant in Indiana.
In Southern Indiana, Jeffersonville now is competing with Bowling Green, Ky., to lure Integrity, a Kentucky maker of an electric car called the Zap. The Zap is considered less sophisticated than Think, which is designed to run on freeways and accelerate from a stop to 60 miles an hour within eight seconds.
It's still not clear, though, whether that big contract is close at hand for EnerDel. About a dozen automakers and major auto-parts makers now are examining versions of EnerDel's batteries, Grape said.
Despite the disarray in the New York capital markets, EnerDel would have no problem raising money to build a big Indiana plant to supply a major automaker, said Gerard Herihy, chief financial officer of Ener1, a parent of EnerDel.
"The only industry able to raise a lot of capital right now is energy and solar. We're in the same area," he said.
Ener1 is the New York-based company financed in part by Russian timber mogul Boris Zingarevich.
Ener1 formed EnerDel in a 2004 joint venture with Michigan-based auto-parts maker Delphi and Japanese electronics company Itochu.
Ener1 this summer acquired bankrupt Delphi's share in EnerDel. EnerDel is housed in the Indianapolis plant that Delphi built for battery production near 86th Street and I-69.
Delphi's origins trace to Delco and Remy, companies with extensive Indiana ties that also had a large hand years ago in putting the first electrical systems in automobiles.
Early in the 20th century, before the gas engine displaced the electric car, historians say, Indiana was home to an array of electric car companies. These included Mills Electric of Ligonier, National Automobile & Electric of Indianapolis, Studebaker Electric of South Bend, Warren Electric of Indianapolis and Waverly Electric of Indianapolis.

*Courtesy Indianapolis Star reporter Ted Evanoff

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: