Summary:

If approved, the future of A123 System’s lithium ion battery tech will fittingly be owned by Chinese auto giant Wanxiang. China is increasingly becoming one of the most important markets for electric vehicles in the world.

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Chinese auto tech behemoth Wanxiang has won the bidding process in an auction to buy the assets of bankrupt battery maker A123 Systems. On Sunday the companies announced that Wanxiang plans to acquire most of the assets of A123 for $256.6 million. It’s news that could be a bit controversial, given A123 received a $132 million grant from the U.S. government, and could now be owned by a Chinese company.

The winning bid beat out Johnson Control’s bid to acquire A123′s automotive division. Johnson Controls previously had offered to buy the automotive division and two factories for $125 million.

One of the reasons Wanxiang’s offer to buy up A123 had been controversial was because A123 had some U.S. military contracts, which critics didn’t want to see in the hands of a Chinese company. But A123 decided to sell off its government business, including all its U.S. military contracts, to Illinois-based company Navitas Systems, for $2.25 million. Wanxiang acquired the rest of the assets including the grid storage business.

We’ll see if that move silences politician critics like U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). The deal still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court as well as the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFIUS).

If approved, the future of A123 System’s lithium ion battery tech will fittingly be owned by a Chinese auto giant, as China is increasingly becoming one of the most important markets for electric vehicles. Money from Chinese investors, conglomerates, cities and the government, continues to drive a significant amount of the future of next-generation electric car technology.

The deal also provides a future for A123′s technology, which had a promising beginning, but had suffered a series of setbacks in 2012. Venture-backed A123 held the largest IPO in 2009, raising some $371 million, and was trading at over $20 per share when it started trading. A123 also raised more than $350 million from private investors when it was still a startup.

Yet in recent months, it suffered from manufacturing problems, and also had only a handful of customers for its premium batteries. The company had been losing boat loads of money for years.

The Wanxiang deal still won’t make back enough to cover its debts. A123 says:

Because the total purchase price for A123’s assets would be less than the total amount owed to creditors, the Company does not anticipate any recoveries for its current shareholders and believes its stock to have no value.

Now that the A123 bankruptcy is moving forward, it will be interesting to see what Fisker Automotive, one of A123′s prime customers, will do. Fisker had told the media that it is waiting for the results of the A123 auction before it starts back up assembling its Karma cars.

This isn’t Wanxiang’s first cleantech and clean energy acquisition — it’s actually its fifth in 2012, says the company in a release. Wanxiang has been aggressively acquiring under valued American cleantech and clean energy companies.

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