The French battery maker Saft, which employs more than 4,000 people worldwide, has just opened its 16th manufacturing plant (in Jacksonville, Fla.), and stands poised to re-enter the road electric vehicle market with unprecedented depth of experience and new product offerings.
“We are studying if and how we can return,” says Franck Cecchi, who directs automotive strategy for the $800 million company. “We are very confident that we can deliver a good and safe product,” he told F&F.
Cecchi was COO at the Johnson Controls-Saft joint venture, and helped fashion this past summer’s “divorce” (his word), from which Saft emerged with a $145 million cash payment and the commitment that a plant at Nersac, in southwest France, be transferred back to Saft at the end of 2012.
The Nersac plant could be used for electric and hybrid electric vehicle batteries. Output from the new plant in Florida, which could be worth $300 million per year, is initially aimed at stationary markets.
Multiple Battery Types
Saft is fully commercial in NCA (nickel cobalt aluminum) lithium batteries and is readying a “Super Phosphate” lithium iron phosphate variant as well, Cecchi says. Saft, which was founded in 1918 as the Société des Accumulateurs Fixes et de Traction, claims the world lead in nickel-based batteries for industrial and transportation applications, and has described the move to lithium as “a natural progression.”
Recent announcements by Saft have involved batteries for a laser weapon, for stationary energy storage, for satellites, aircraft, trains, and two new plug-in hybrid electric ferries planned by Keolis in Bordeaux, in southwest France. Saft will supply 140-kilowatt battery packs that will allow the diesel-electric vessels for the Garonne River crossing six hours of fully electric operation.
Saft also supplies lithium batteries for the E-Vivacity electric scooter by Peugeot, Cecchi says.
Saft says that its new 235,000-square-foot facility in Jacksonville is “the world’s most advanced automated lithium ion battery factory,” with “fully automated, totally flexible production lines capable of building multi new-generation Li-ion technologies.” The building is topped by a one-megawatt solar power installation, said to be the largest photovoltaic system in Florida. Florida provided incentives for the plant, and there was a $95.5 million grant from the U.S. DoE under ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.