U.S. Tech Companies Unite For Car Batteries, Seek Gov. Aid

Electric vehicle makers in the U.S. have often complained that Asian firms are dominating the battery market, making it difficult to find battery options domestically — heck, even chip-maker Intel has been advised to look into the market partly because it’s so sparse. This morning, a group of more than a dozen U.S. tech companies say they are looking to solve that problem; they’re teaming up to build a plant to make next-gen electric vehicle batteries and asking the U.S. government for $1 billion to support the plan, according to the various media reports.

If the method — U.S. firms join up to battle Asian dominance — sounds familiar to all you old-school tech-watchers, that’s because it is. The group is modeling itself on Sematech, a coalition formed by U.S. chip companies in the late ’80s to compete with Japanese firms. The car battery consortium, known as the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, comprises: 3M (s MMM), Johnson Controls (s JCI), Saft, FMC (s FMC), EnerSys (s ENS), ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Eagle Picher Industries, Envia Systems, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite and Townsend Advanced Energy.

The group, which is also being advised by Argonne National Labs, is planning to ask the Obama administration for roughly $1 billion in aid and loan guarantees, according to the Wall Street Journal (Reuters says it could be as high as $2 billion). The funds would be used for a shared advanced battery plant so the firms could bring down the cost, and raise the efficiency and performance of lithium ion batteries. With all the other auto companies and troubled industries also asking for handouts, we’re not sure how viable it is for the new group to secure that funding. But at least the consortium’s entire purpose is to research the next-generation of technology, and the funding wouldn’t go to prop up older failing business models (that’s you, Big Three).