By SHIZUKA TANABE, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Honda Motor may have been slow to embrace electric vehicles, similar to its Japanese peers, but the automaker has made large bets to get ahead in the growing market, especially when it comes to EV batteries.
Monday’s announcement that Honda teamed with South Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution to build a $4.4 billion EV battery plant in the U.S. was not the automaker’s first move in the sector. The company will spend 43 billion yen ($310 million) to launch a pilot production line that produces all-solid-state batteries, demonstrating that it is going all-in on the next-generation technology.
The line will start in spring 2024 at Honda’s research center in Sakura, north of Tokyo. The project will assess technical issues regarding performance and mass production.
Honda has a goal of releasing electric vehicles equipped with proprietary solid-state batteries in the latter half of the decade. The batteries will also be used to power its motorcycles.
“We intend to fully ascertain in-house production and cost structures to enable mass production of next-generation battery technology researched and developed internally,” said Shinji Aoyama, Honda’s senior managing executive officer in charge of the electrification strategy.
Solid-state batteries, which replace liquid electrolytes with solid electrolytes, are expected to replace lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are better at storing energy, which extends the driving ranges of EVs on one charge. Solid-state batteries are also considered safer since they are less of a fire hazard.
Nissan Motor plan to mass produce solid-state batteries by fiscal 2028. The automaker is researching sulfur-based materials for the battery, which does not use nickel, manganese or cobalt found in conventional batteries.
In winter last year, Nissan added testing equipment for EV solid-state batteries at a lab in the Oppama assembly plant in Yokosuka city. The company plans to build a test line at the Yokohama plant in 2024.
Through these efforts, Nissan will address issues that may come up when introducing the technology to the U.S. and other overseas markets. The company will lean on its long history developing batteries for the Leaf EV.
“We accumulated EV technology and we have a wealth of human resources,” said a Nissan executive. “We seek to do all in our power commercialize all solid-state batteries before competitors.”
Toyota Motor and Panasonic Holdings are developing solid-state batteries at a joint-venture company. Toyota is the world leader in the number of battery patents held. The automaker plans to release a hybrid vehicle equipped with a solid-state battery by the mid-2020s.
Among European rivals, Volkswagen has invested into the U.S. battery developer QuantumScape. BMW joined Ford Motor to expand their stakes in U.S. startup Solid Power last year. BMW will start road tests by 2025 with vehicles equipped with solid-state batteries, and start selling the vehicles by 2030.
The global solid-state battery market is projected to hit 2.1 trillion yen in 2035, compared with about 1.8 billion yen in 2019, according to Tokyo-based researcher Fuji Keizai.
Current solid-state technology has only reached feasibility for small batteries that power electronic devices. Mass production tech for large EV batteries remain at the development stage. Automakers are racing to be the first to mass produce solid-state batteries for EVs, seen as crucial in gaining an upper hand in the market.
In China, Honda has teamed up with global battery leader CATL. In the U.S., Honda has partnered with LG Energy Solution, the No. 2 battery player.
With the announcement that Honda and LG Energy Solution would build a battery plant in the U.S., Honda’s stock rose by 2% in the Tokyo stock market Tuesday to hit the year-to-date high of 3,755 yen.
By taking a significant step in battery procurement, which has become a medium-term concern, the company has fleshed out its aggressive EV strategy, Kota Yuzawa, analyst at Goldman Sachs Japan, said in a report Monday.