While U.S. shrugs, China sees gold in green tech

Automotive News | March 14, 2013 - 1:32 pm EST

I'm on the outside looking in, of course, but it's not real hard to figure out what's probably happening at Fisker Automotive.

Co-founder Henrik Fisker quit his namesake company this week, citing disagreements with management. CEO Tony Posawatz has been quite open about the need to find a partner, an investor, a buyer -- some source of capital for the floundering maker of plug-in hybrids. Recent media reports have said a buyer most likely will come from China.

Presumably Henrik Fisker isn't happy about that. But selling Fisker Automotive to a Chinese company wouldn't be a surprise. It would be a surprise if the new owner weren't Chinese.

Last August, Automotive News ran a story by Alysha Webb, who specializes in Chinese trade and electric vehicles, on Chinese investment in green tech developed in the United States The companies Webb listed at that time:

• Smith Electric Vehicles (EVs)

• Protean Electric (in-wheel electric drive systems)

• A123 Systems (batteries)

• Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (plug-in hybrid electric drivetrains)

• Boston-Power Inc. (batteries)

• PowerGenix Corp. (batteries)

• Aptera Motors (EVs)

The Chinese investments ranged from minority equity to joint ventures to outright purchase of assets. Since then, the deals have continued. For instance, the large Chinese supplier Wanxiang Group moved from investor to owner of A123's battery business in January, buying it out of Chapter 11 reorganization.

That last detail tells you why this is happening. Electric drive businesses are finding it hard to stay afloat in the United States. Meanwhile, China has a policy of encouraging electrified transportation. And it has ample money to invest.

So green tech -- some of it developed with U.S. government grants and loans -- is migrating to China.

The question is: Should we care?

Are the Chinese positioning themselves to dominate electric drive if, in another decade or so, it gains critical mass?

Are they wasting their renminbi on a technology that will never be cost-effective for mass market consumers? Or are they buying old tech that will require multiple upgrades if electric drive is to become practical?

Time and market forces will answer those questions. But what is quite clear today is that China is buying up the electric-drive technology that the United States is rejecting.

Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.

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