China moves in on U.S. manufacturer of high-tech car batteries
A123 Systems, a maker of advanced batteries for electric vehicles, has been struggling financially of late. However, it may soon be rescued. Unfortunately, the bailout could come from a Chinese auto-parts company.
Wanxiang Group Corp., one of China's biggest auto parts makers, has offered a $450 million bid for A123 Systems Inc.
If a Chinese firm were to buy A123, it would put the firm's lithium-ion technology and its U.S.-funded manufacturing plant, in the hands of a company that has been slowly acquiring U.S. auto parts firms throughout the Midwest.
According to Michael Wessel of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), the deal has worrying implications. As Wessel explained to Reuters:
"This is a very troubling transaction that should be strictly scrutinized by the U.S. government. This is a critical sector and one that American policy makers have focused on in terms of future economic opportunity and job creation."
China's auto parts industry already enjoys massive subsidies that give Chinese firms a leg up on their U.S. competition. According to a study conducted for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) by Usha C.V. Haley, government subsidies to the Chinese auto-parts industry have reached $27.5 billion. Haley says that China’s central government has committed to disbursing an additional $10.9 billion in subsidies for industrial restructuring and technological development of the industry.
U.S. firms like A123 face the double whammy of subsidized competition from China, and then the potential for buyout by the same competitors.
According to David Vieau, A123's chief executive, the firm would seek approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) in order to move forward on the sale to Wanxiang. However, the deal already faces concerns from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel on oversight and investigations, and is worried about the deal's transfer of intellectual property.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Stearns as saying: "We need to make sure the federal government isn't an unwitting accomplice to the theft of our own national secrets by providing [foreign-controlled companies] with multimillion-dollar government grants and loans."
Photo by Flickr user quasireversible and used following Creative Commons guidelines.
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