YOKOHAMA, Japan -- To drive down costs and ensure steady delivery, Honda is in talks with a potential second supplier of lithium ion batteries for its new line of hybrid vehicles.
The carmaker expects to seal a deal within a year, said Kentaro Yokoo, chief engineer of the new one-motor hybrid drivetrain used in the redesigned Fit compact.
The new supplier, which he declined to name, would serve as a backup to Blue Energy Co., a joint venture formed in 2009 between Honda and Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp.
"We are thinking about a different supplier," Yokoo said at test drive event for the latest Fit hatchback. "It would be for the upcoming hybrids, including the Fit."
Blue Energy currently supplies all batteries for Honda's new generation of Earth Dreams hybrid drivetrains.
The series includes the one-motor system for the Fit and a new two-motor layout for the hybrid version of the Accord mid-sized sedan.
Lithium ion batteries power all those cars.
But Honda wants another supplier in the mix for two reasons.
First, it wants to spur competition that will generate a better battery with lower costs, Yokoo said. Second, Honda wants a backup supplier in case of delivery problems with the first.
"If there is just one maker, and there is factory trouble, the product might stop coming," Yokoo said.
The latter reason reflects lessons learned from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. The domestic industry came to a standstill when the disaster knocked out production of a few key parts.
But it also may reflect concern about quality glitches.
Defective lithium ion batteries supplied by GS Yuasa forced Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to recall its Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV earlier this year.
GS Yuasa also supplied lithium ion batteries that overheated and forced the global grounding of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner jet aircraft in January.
Yokoo said the supplier under consideration is a Japanese company and one that Honda has not worked with before.
"We aim to decide soon," he said. "Within a year. If we don't decide soon, we can't start mass production."
Blue Energy currently supplies lithium ion batteries for the CR-Z and hybrid versions of the Civic, Accord and new Fit.
Panasonic supplies nickel-metal hydride batteries for the Insight and the wagon variant of the outgoing Fit.
Toshiba provides lithium ion batteries for an all-electric version of the Fit based on that nameplate's second generation.