Made in Germany: Daimler, Evonik to Crank Out Electric Car Batteries by 2011

The growing number of companies and policy makers trying to build a booming electric vehicle battery industry in the U.S. have so far found the biggest competition coming from Asia, home of lithium-ion cell manufacturers that dominate the market for laptop and electronics batteries. But now the seeds of competition are also sprouting up in Germany. Daimler AG (s DAI) and Evonik Industries have just finalized plans to build a lithium-ion battery pack plant in Kamenz, Germany, near an existing facility for the companies’ lithium-ion cell venture, Li-Tec.

daimler-evonikDaimler and Evonik want to move fast — Evonik on Tuesday released a timeline for the project: Begin construction this fall, start churning out battery packs by 2011, and launch them in vehicles starting with models in the 2012 lineup from Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. From there, the Daimler-Evonik battery system joint venture, called Deutsche Accumotive, aims to pursue sales to third-party automakers.

While Daimler has previously touted its registration of more than 600 patents related to battery-powered vehicles over the last three decades, the company has recently shown a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to carving out a piece of the nascent plug-in vehicle and battery market — a potentially multibillion-dollar opportunity by the company’s estimates.

Just over a year ago, Daimler started talking about plans for an electric Mercedes model as well as an electric version of its Smart car, and said it was “in talks” with electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place. In December, Daimler announced its first battery joint venture with Evonik — the lithium-ion cell company Li-Tec.

In May, Daimler kicked it up a notch, taking a 10 percent stake in electric carmaker Tesla Motors and announcing plans to use battery packs from the startup for the electric version of the Smart Fortwo from Mercedes, slated to hit showrooms in 2012. A big reason for the deal, said Daimler’s Thomas Weber (who is responsible for group research and Mercedes cars development), was to get an electric car on the market as soon as possible, faster than it could with internal development.

Daimler and Evonik have not said specifically that the new Kamenz plant will produce batteries for the electric Smart, or use technology from Tesla. (We’ve asked Tesla about its role in the Kamenz project and will update when we have a response.) And back in May, when Tesla and Daimler announced the Smart car partnership, Weber emphasized that the deal did not make Tesla a shoe-in for supplying battery tech for other Daimler models. Daimler seems to be working hard to deploy its own battery tech (Green Car Congress quotes Weber this week saying, “Even in a few years…many vehicles will have these “Made in Germany” energy storage systems onboard,” as a result of Daimler’s JV with Evonik). But at this point, we’ll have to wait and see how much progress it can make by 2012, and what additional partners it ends up bringing into the fold.

Photo: Evonik Chairman Werner Müller with Daimler Chairman and Mercedes-Benz Chief Dieter Zetsche, courtesy Daimler.