Image via CrunchBase
Not just irony but also further evidence that subsidies are fundamentally unsound.
Back in October last year the US lithium-ion battery maker, A123 Systems, filed for bankruptcy.
10/15/2012: A123 Systems, which had received a $249 million grant from the U.S. government, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, giving Republicans fresh ammunition to attack the Obama administration’s subsidies for green energy.
The filing came after the lithium-ion battery maker’s $465 million rescue deal with Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group collapsed, hobbled by “unanticipated and significant challenges,” A123 said on its website. A123 has agreed to sell its automotive operations, including two factories in Michigan, for $125 million to Johnson Controls Inc, a leading battery supplier and another recipient of federal green subsidies.
….. The U.S. Department of Energy allotted about $90 billion for various clean-energy programs through the administration’s stimulus package. Of that, at least $813 million went to energy companies that eventually filed for bankruptcy, including A123, Solyndra, Beacon, Abound Solar and EnerDel.
But Wanxiang Group persevered and the US Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) has granted its approval for a revised deal to go ahead. In addition to the automotive business divested to Johnson Controls, all government related business was also divested by the bankrupt A123 Systems to Navita Systems (at a fire-sale price of $2.25 million).
Bloomberg: Wanxiang Group Co., China’s biggest auto-parts maker, won approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to buy most of the assets of A123 Systems Inc. (AONEQ), the bankrupt electric-car battery maker backed with U.S. government funds.
Approval from CFIUS, as it is known, was the final hurdle that Wanxiang needed to overcome to complete the deal. The federal interagency group led by the Treasury Department was reviewing the sale after members of Congress expressed national- security concerns over allowing a foreign competitor to obtain the technology developed with government backing.
…… “Nothing provided by CFIUS has changed my opinion that the core technology developed by A123,” and the related intellectual property, “can be separated along A123’s business lines,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Republican representing Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District, in an e- mailed statement. “American taxpayers should not be funding technology that will in turn be used in competition against American companies,” he said, adding that he will look into legislation to prevent sales of taxpayer-funded “sensitive technologies” to foreign companies in the future.
….. “The Energy Department’s Recovery Act grant to A123 was used for the construction of brick and mortar advanced battery manufacturing facilities at two Michigan locations,” Bill Gibbons, a department spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. The funds weren’t used for the company’s research and development of battery technology, he said.
“The purchase of these assets includes the Energy Department’s requirement that the plants and equipment partially paid for by the Recovery Act stay in Michigan and continue to operate, generating job opportunities for American workers,” Gibbons said.
….. As part of the purchase Wanxiang, based in Hangzhou, China, will get A123’s cathode powder plant in China and its share of a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., called Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., in addition to the battery technology used in Fisker Automotive Inc.’s Karma sedan. Fisker, A123’s main customer, said it was awaiting the sale of the company’s Michigan plant so it could resume production of the $103,000 plug-in Karma sedan. A123, whose automotive business supplies electric-car batteries to about a dozen customers, has facilities in the Michigan cities of Livonia and Romulus.
The A123 Systems bankruptcy itself raised some questions about who had walked away with all the benefits. In a sense the subsidies have served the purpose of those investors who got away in time! For the US this now appears to be a damage control exercise to stop the bleeding where some local jobs are temporarily “saved” but the long term benefits are all to the account of Wanxiang. If indeed A123 Systems used government funds only for the building of factories and not for R & D, then Wanxiang have – fairly cheaply – bought themselves a foothold into the US market But if the US market develops – which it may not – then some or all of these jobs will eventually move to a low-cost country. Wanxiang has in any case bought themselves a technology cheaply which may address a world-wide market. But the jobs that creates will not be in the US. If the technology fails or the US market does not develop, then Wanxiang can just walk away from the US but they will retain the technology for whatever it is worth.
Paradoxically the only way in which the US taxpayer wins is if the technology is a dud and the deal represents future losses and liabilities being exported to Wanxiang!