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tjts1 11-19-2009 10:27 PM

Electric Cars Push Japan Engine Parts Makers to Crisis Mode

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Auto supplier NTN Corp. knew its gasoline engine parts wouldn’t be needed in Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf electric car. So the component maker’s engineers built a mock model to test a motor-and-brake system it developed for electric vehicles.

“If old-guard companies like us just continue along the same beaten path, things will become difficult,” Chairman Yasunobu Suzuki said. “I told our engineers to try everything.”

As Nissan and General Motors Co. prepare to introduce battery-powered cars next year, traditional auto suppliers like Osaka-based NTN are trying to adapt by creating new lines of business. Engine components account for as much as 40 percent of a typical car’s total parts, so some suppliers are scrambling to come up with new products, said Takeshi Miyao, a Tokyo-based analyst for car consultant Carnorama.

While internal-combustion engines currently power more than 99 percent of cars built globally, their share can only fall as electric cars enter the market, Miyao said. That will intensify price competition and lower profits for manufacturers.

“If you’re a parts maker that can’t expand market share, then you can’t grow without entering new businesses,” he said.

‘Crisis-Like Situation’

Tsubakimoto Chain Co., an Osaka-based maker of chains that link engine components, also is shut out of the market for electric cars, which are powered by a lithium-ion battery and motor. About 30 percent of Tsubakimoto’s 142 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in sales last fiscal year were in auto parts, all of them for gasoline engines.

“It’s a crisis-like situation,” said Toru Fujiwara, head of Tsubakimoto’s auto-parts division. “With electric cars, there’s no way we can apply our current technology.”

Tsubakimoto is exploring making parts for battery-powered vehicles and talking with its customers, which include Nissan, Fujiwara said. The company plans to spend 3.5 billion yen on research in the fiscal year ending in March.

“We have to come up with completely new technology,” he said, declining to name possible products.

NTN, which makes bearings for gasoline engines, said in September it will raise as much as 23.8 billion yen from selling new shares and invest the proceeds in research and development, and in affiliates. About 60 percent of its sales are in car components, the company said.

Better Batteries

NTN spends about 3 percent of sales, expected to be 472 billion yen this fiscal year, on research, it said. The company is seeking patents on electric-car related products.

The new market is luring companies to the auto business for the first time.

Daikin Industries Ltd., the world’s second-biggest air conditioner maker, is applying its expertise in fluorine, now used to power cells for personal computers and mobile phones, to make electric car batteries safer and longer-lasting.

Daikin, based in Osaka, expects battery-related sales of fluorine to increase more than 10 times by 2017 to 10 billion yen, said Guntaro Kawamura, executive vice president.

Motor makers such as Nidec Corp. of Kyoto may be the biggest winners, Miyao said. Cars typically have about 100 motors powering wipers, air conditioners and door mirrors, among other features.

Motor Makers

Overflow energy from a gasoline-powered engine helps power heaters and fans, so there’s a need for double the number of motors in engineless electric vehicles, he said.

“We are definitely developing motors for electric cars,” said Norio Tamura, a spokesman for Nidec, the world’s biggest maker of motors for hard-disk drives.

President Shigenobu Nagamori is aiming for total revenue to rise from 570 billion yen this fiscal year to 1 trillion yen by fiscal year 2012, with 350 billion yen coming from car-related motor sales.

The company is opening its biggest research-and-development facility in Shiga prefecture, in western Japan, on Nov. 24, Tamura said.

He declined to say whether the company already makes parts for Nissan’s Leaf. Nissan doesn’t disclose most suppliers for the car. Its lithium-ion battery is made by AESC, a venture between Nissan and NEC Corp.

GM, Toyota

Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said electric cars will comprise at least 10 percent of global demand by 2020, assuming oil costs more than $70 a barrel. It traded at $79.84 on Nov. 18.

General Motors Co. plans to build as many as 60,000 Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric cars annually starting in November 2010. Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest carmaker, plans to build a plug-in model for retail buyers in 2012.

This is not the first time automakers are introducing electric cars. Toyota’s last attempt ended with just 1,900 sales of its electric RAV4 sport-utility vehicles in the U.S. and Japan between 1997 and 2003.

Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second-largest carmaker, sold about 320 EV Plus battery-powered models on leases in the two countries between 1997 and 2000.

This time, “government emissions regulations are forcing carmakers who want to continue selling large-engine models to introduce battery-powered cars,” Miyao said. “We should see much bigger numbers.”

Obama Goal

U.S. President Barack Obama is aiming for 1 million plug-in cars on roads by 2015 to curb emissions and dependence on foreign oil. Japan Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to cut emissions 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

“The shift to electric cars may be more dramatic than people think,” Kawamura said. “The auto industry will need to shoulder much of that cut.”

Traditional suppliers must balance innovations with meeting their customers’ immediate demands as improving fuel efficiency is a top industry priority, according to Tsubakimoto’s Fujiwara.

Still, suppliers should not delay expanding to meet the potential surge in electric-car demand, said Hisataka Nobumoto, chairman of the Japan Auto Parts Industries Association that includes NTN.

“As current technologies and businesses are reassessed, decisions on where and how to pursue new areas must be made as early as possible,” he said. “By doing so, survival may be possible.”
Electric Cars Push Japan Engine Parts Makers to Crisis Mode -

Its funny how the Japanese parts industry is already thinking ahead to the day when millions of electric cars roll off the assembly line while we haven't really heard a word from the US auto parts maker except 'please give us MORE bailout money'. I feel like US industry won't take electric cars seriously until its too late.

Christ 11-19-2009 11:41 PM

Which would be a change compared to what part of US history? (Regarding the US automakers, anyway... )

I feel like you're probably right on this one.

I also feel like the US auto makers are going to push gasoline/diesel electric hybrids, helping to concrete the perception of US citizens that automakers have their fingers in the oil companies' pockets.

orange4boy 01-16-2010 01:39 AM

This article is proof that electric cars are superior in terms of reliability. (in case you needed any more) It also reveals a powerful player that may be/is opposed to electric cars.

Let the buggers die already!

jamesqf 01-16-2010 02:15 AM


Originally Posted by Christ (Post 140471)
I also feel like the US auto makers are going to push gasoline/diesel electric hybrids, helping to concrete the perception of US citizens that automakers have their fingers in the oil companies' pockets.

Why? It seems like a perfectly logical solution to me. Batteries weigh a lot, have limited range, and take a long time to recharge, so it makes perfect sense to have a comparatively small battery which can handle shorter trips, backed up by an engine that provides additional power for longer ones.

dcb 01-16-2010 09:21 AM

it is far less than "perfect" if you want an electric only car for local driving/commuting and only want to dust off the old gasser for long trips.

Considering how much local driving goes on, it makes sense not to schlep a gas engine and tank and pollution controls and expense all around town.

SentraSE-R 01-16-2010 11:29 AM

American industry is notoriously short-sighted. Its bottom line is typically year-end profits, and rarely a coherent plan for five or ten years down the road. Our big two will almost certainly be left in the dust when EVs take off. We'd already be breathing Nissan's tailpiipe fumes, if the Leaf put any out, that is.

jamesqf 01-16-2010 12:57 PM


Originally Posted by dcb (Post 154634)
Considering how much local driving goes on, it makes sense not to schlep a gas engine and tank and pollution controls and expense all around town.

Well, there you go, assuming everyone is just like you :-) A pure electric might make sense for your purely local driving (but quite possibly a bike would make even more sense), and indeed, I do believe you can buy electric neighborhood vehicles right now.

I'm different. I do very little local driving (since I telecommute to work). Most drives start at about 35 miles, and work up to about 120 or so, with occasional longer trips. (And often involve 3000-4000 ft climbs.) So does it make sense to shlep around the massive & expensive battery pack needed for this range, or to have a small battery pack and small, lightweight engine instead?

dcb 01-16-2010 01:39 PM

Lol, you are making assumptions about my assumptions, in your presumption.

But you have basically made my point here, hybrids are never perfect, that would be like saying automatic transmissions are perfect. Hybrids help people who are too lazy to drive efficiently (let alone people who don't want to commute 40 miles by bicycle).

But your driving environment would benefit from not having the "heavy and expensive" batteries and motor, if you used an efficient technique (easier than peddling) rather than using the crutch of a battery and motor.

This is exactly my point, you have to carry extra weight up and down the hills and get little return in efficiency (other factors excluded, cuz I don't care) as compared to learning to drive "right".

So in many cases I don't think it makes ANY sense to make a gas car carry a battery and motor, OR to make an electric car carry a gas engine. These are compromise solutions, and always less than ideal, and less than perfect, and usually over complicated, over budget, and over schedule.

I can't get very far in a NEV due to the speed limit restrictions on them, otherwise that would fill some of the electric niche, but would be nice to have a bit more speed and range, so that the gasser can stay in the garage longer.

What I WANT short term is to be able to keep my beater saturn wagon for trips/vacation so that it doesn't get tossed (I get ~45 mpg with it), and an electric vehicle for about 40 miles worth of driving, more is better obviously, but the fuel costs should go to negligible and the reliability should be superb.

But I don't think the automakers can bring themselves to sell anything that you don't pour gas into. They are in a rut.

jamesqf 01-16-2010 11:16 PM

Well, your assumptions are wrong. It's just simple fact that if you put a gas engine in a hybrid, and run it at its most efficient speed, you'll get far better mpg than the same car with just a gas engine. And if you have reasonable plug-in battery capacity, you get better fuel economy still. Given the limits of current technology, that's where the optimum is.

dcb 01-17-2010 12:56 AM

My not continuing this discussion cannot possibly make anything you have said correct or less contradictory, but it started out stupid and ended stupid IMHO, have fun convincing yourself.

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