Can the U.S. Become the EV Battery Leader?

Many of our most promising electric cars have parts—or entire assemblies—being built in China. But when it comes to the most important (and most expensive) component, EV companies may turn to American manufacturers.

One such battery-maker, A123 Systems, completed an auspicious IPO last week, Reuters reported yesterday. The Massachusetts-based company gained notoriety when it courted—and subsequently lost—a deal to produce batteries for the Chevy Volt, GM's last-shot hybrid sedan. A123 responded by raising more than $69 million in funding and hammering out a contract with rival Chrysler. (Below, a charging plug on Wheego's electric car.)

After opening at $13.50, the stock jumped to over $20, and settled on Friday to $19.87. The total offering amounted to over $378 million. It's the second-biggest IPO of 2009, and comes on top of A123's $249 million Energy Department grant of last month, the DOE's second-largest. The Wall Street Journal has called the A123 grant part of a Washington strategy to encourage a "homegrown" battery industry to stave off dependence on foreign technology—and oil.

A123 has already received 15 years of tax credits worth up to $100 million from the state of Michigan to build facilities there, and other states like Kentucky are acting in kind to woo other manufacturers. According to some analysts, the A123 IPO is only the beginning; the first quarter of 2010 may see a series of "blockbuster" clean-tech public offerings, fueled in part by other government stimulus grants. Hybrid-battery maker Johnson Controls, for example, received a $299.2 million grant, the largest of any clean-tech company, from DOE last month.

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