This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Needham Growth Conference in New York and listening to a presentation by Christina Lampe-Onnerud of Boston-Power, Inc. Boston-Power is in the process of opening a manufacturing facility in China that will produce Boston-Power’s new Swing® cells.
I spoke with Christina at some length after her presentation and asked her about Boston-Power’s China plans. Boston-Power was one of the many U.S. advanced battery companies that was unsuccessful in its attempt to get funding in 2009 from the DOE’s FOA-26 program funded by the Stimulus Package.
Christina confirmed that the Chinese government has provided Boston-Power with extremely attractive financial incentives to locate its manufacturing operations in China. But what Christina says impressed her and influenced her decision even more was the intense interest of Chinese government leaders in advanced batteries and electric vehicles.
Christina, who is a well-known person in the advanced battery industry, is a frequent speaker at meetings and conferences. She related that senior members of the Chinese government recently attended one such event and spent the better part of three days listening and asking questions. They wanted to know from the experts what China needed to do to achieve its goals of energy sufficiency and independence. The intensity with which the officials seemed to listen impressed Christina greatly.
It was therefore no surprise to me to read yesterday about Chinese President Hu Jintao upcoming visit to the United States. President Hu will apparently be making only two stops on his visit. The first will be in Washington to meet with President Obama. The second will be in Chicago where, it is reported, he will visit Wanxiang America’s headquarters in Elgin, Illinois.
Wanxiang is a very large Chinese conglomerate with an interesting history and a focus on the automotive and renewable energy markets. Wanxiang’s President, Pin Ni, was, in fact, a speaker at the June 2008 conference that gave birth to NAATBatt. More recently Wanxiang has announced its intention to become a major player in the electric vehicle market. Among other things, Wanxiang signed a joint venture agreement with U.S. advanced battery maker EnerDel in May of last year.
When the leader of China makes a visit to the United States and schedules just two stops, one to see our President and the other to see a Chinese electric vehicle company, the significance is hard to ignore. As Butch Cassidy said in the movie, “Hey, these guys are serious.” If the leaders of our government do not start getting a lot more serious about electric drive and listening with more interest to those who are expert in that field, the United States risks getting left well behind.