Battery shortage triggers hybrid gridlock


Carmakers in the US are currently scrambling to meet the demand for hybrids and smaller, fuel efficient vehicles, as gas prices continue to surge.

Trucks and sport utility vehicles accounted for 47% of Ford’s sales as recently as February but only 34% in May, as consumers opted for compact and subcompact passenger cars. General Motors is adding a third shift at a two assembly plants to meet the rising demand for smaller cars even as it prepares to close four truck plants and puts its entire Hummer operation under review for a possible sale.

About 20% of all Toyota Camrys sold in the U.S. are now hybrids, making them more popular than models equipped with a V6 engine. (Meanwhile, Toyota is sitting on 100-day supply of unsold pickup trucks.)

This is excellent news, but there’s a problem currently hindering this shift in demand: an acute shortage of nickel-metal-hydride batteries. GM and Toyota and scrambling to get their hands on enough batteries, but a new plant to produce them can only come online as early as 2010. TIME even made a direct reference to the documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car?, pointing out that GM aims to purchase the battery subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices to provide better access to batteries, while these batteries are identical to those GM refused to put into its electric cars in the 1990s (shown in the film).

Ford is facing similar woes:

[Ford] simply cannot get enough of the batteries to keep up with the demand for its Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrid models, says spokesman George Pipas. Ford currently has access to only 24,000 of the special batteries under a contract it signed years ago, he says. “The supply of batteries is capped.”

Car makers continue to jump on the hybrid bandwagon: GM aims to have 8 hybrids on the road by the end of 2008, whereas Honda estimates it will sell 200′000 units per year of its new small petrol-electric hybrid, of which 100′000 units are destined for North America.

Did you know?

In 2010, there will be 4200km of new highways in and around Shanghai, China that didn't exist in 2000. Varese, a town in Northern Italy, runs on 100% renewable power. The town uses a mix of wind, solar and small-scale hydropower. The town has reaped benefits from the energy network through added jobs, and an additional 350,000 euros [US $514,000] in revenues that are handed over to the council each year.


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