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GM Eying Purchase of Hybrid Battery Supplier

Although Cobasys currently serves as a battery supplier for GM’s current and future hybrid programs, it may soon become a subsidiary of the General.; Sources close to the supplier say GM’s currently arranging to purchase the battery maker in its entirety.

Automotive News reports that the beancounters in Detroit have already contracted with a consulting firm for a financial audit of Cobasys, which is currently co-owned by Chevron Corp. and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.

The first rumblings of Cobasys’ sale emerged last month in ECD’s quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission.; The report mentioned that both sides were looking to divest themselves of the battery operation.

Such a purchase could help keep Cobasys afloat.; Although Chevron and ECD both own 50 percent of the venture, both sides are fighting for majority control.; Chevron also accused ECD of failing to fund their part of Cobasys.; Arbitration between the two parties was scheduled for February, but was halted to pursue a possible sale.

The aforementioned SEC filing also referenced an “unnamed customer” – more than likely GM – has helped keep the firm afloat by loaning money for tooling and purchasing batteries at higher prices.; Even so, Cobasys lost close to $76 million in 2007 and expects to lose a similar figure in 2008.

GM certainly has an interest in keeping the supplier afloat. If Cobasys folds, the automaker is without a battery source for mild hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Aura, and Saturn VUE.; Automotive News says GM can’t switch suppliers until the launch of their next-generation mild hybrids, slated for a 2010 introduction.

If that weren’t heavy enough, Cobasys is one of two firms contracted to develop lithium-ion battery packs for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.; GM is scrambling to move the Volt from concept to production, but battery development – relegated mostly to Cobasys and A123 systems – is reportedly a major stumbling block.

Source: Automotive News

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