Hitachi Boosts Battery Output to Ride Hybrid Boom

Manufacturer aims to lift its production capacity to 3 million batteries a month, up from the current level of 40,000.

Japan's Hitachi Ltd. said Thursday it would ramp up production of lithium-ion batteries used in hybrid vehicles, seeking to ride a wave of interest in fuel-efficient cars. Hitachi, seeking to recover from its biggest ever loss, aims to lift its production capacity to 3 million batteries a month, up from the current level of 40,000. Hitachi said it would start supplying lithium-ion batteries to Detroit giant General Motors from 2010 for use in 100,000 cars a year. The manufacturer declined to say how much it would spend to boost output, but the Nikkei business daily reported Hitachi would invest up to 30 billion yen (US$310 million) to increase capacity 70-fold by 2015. The batteries would be made at a factory operated by its subsidiary Hitachi Vehicle Energy Ltd. in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, the report said. Other electronic manufacturers are also stepping up their focus on the same type of rechargeable batteries, targeting a share of a burgeoning market. Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda have reported brisk sales of their new hybrids models, both of which use conventional nickel-metal hydride battery packs, despite a severe slump in the overall auto industry. Lithium-ion batteries are smaller and lighter than conventional ones and automakers have for years been competing to develop a version suitable for hybrid vehicles. But there have been safety concerns after massive recalls of the same type of battery by laptop computer manufacturers. Hitachi firm announced in May that it had developed a lithium-ion battery with the world's highest power density. The sprawling conglomerate, which makes everything from refrigerators to nuclear power systems, posted the biggest ever loss for a Japanese manufacturer in the year to March, totaling 787.3 billion yen (US$8.2 billion). Separately, Hitachi and South Korea's LG Electronics announced they had agreed to settle their patent infringement lawsuits related to plasma televisions, computers and car audio and navigation systems. Financial terms were not disclosed. Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this story Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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