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Honda teams with GM to create better electric-car batteries

Partnership covers North America following CATL tie-up in China

Honda Motor plans to include batteries developed with General Motors in North American electric vehicles that will succeed the limited-release Clarity.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Honda Motor and General Motors will partner to develop new lithium-ion batteries for North America that charge faster and keep cars running longer than current offerings, boosting the Japanese company's lagging presence for fully electric autos.

The American automaker will manufacture the modules for the compact, highly efficient batteries in the U.S. and supply them to Honda under an agreement announced on Thursday, with deployment expected early in the next decade. The collaboration will be based on GM's next-generation battery system.

In China, where Honda plans to roll out an electric compact sport utility vehicle this year, the company is working on batteries with CATL, or Contemporary Amperex Technology, the world's top maker of electric vehicle batteries. This arrangement and the GM partnership will have the Japanese maker develop and source these key components in the world's top two auto markets.

Honda and GM are shifting focus to all-electric vehicles as China, France, the U.K. and other markets weigh bans on gasoline-powered cars in the coming decades. GM ranks as a leader among major automakers in electrification technology, having unveiled the Chevrolet Volt in 2010. The company aims to give the next-generation Volt a range of at least 300 miles, or 482km, on a single charge -- a target the new battery system likely will share.

Honda is eager to get its hands on GM's electric-car technology and cut procurement costs as it prepares to introduce a mass-produced electric vehicle in North America.

The Japanese automaker sold roughly 260,000 gasoline-electric hybrids worldwide in 2017, around 5% of its overall sales. Honda's all-electric Clarity made a limited debut in the U.S. in May. But the company has struggled to develop robust battery technologies that would let it compete with electric vehicle front-runners such as Nissan Motor, whose Leaf travels 400km per charge.

Honda and GM have worked together since 2013 on researching hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and last year they decided to produce key parts for those automobiles in the U.S. These are to be incorporated into fuel cell vehicles each company plans to debut around 2020.

But these hydrogen-powered cars have been far slower to catch on than their electric counterparts, in part because little fueling infrastructure exists. British research firm IHS Markit foresees the global market for fuel cell vehicles at 100,000-plus autos in 2030, compared with roughly 8.5 million for electric vehicles.

With the latest GM partnership, as well as a motor partnership with Hitachi, Honda aims to shift gears toward the more popular technology and eventually rival Toyota Motor, Volkswagen and up-and-coming Chinese automakers in the field. Toyota has teamed with Mazda Motor and Denso on an electric vehicle development venture. Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors are working on electric vehicles through their existing alliance, aiming to introduce 12 models by 2022.

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