Nissan quits EV batteries, sells to China’s Envision, switches to LG Chem

Nissan has thrown in the towel on its electric vehicle (EV) battery project, and has opted to sell its Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC) wing to Envision, a Chinese firm that manages over 100GW of energy assets, using its EnOS software. For Nissan’s EVs, including the very popular Leaf, LG Chem will now be the supplier of the battery units.

The price isn’t being disclosed, but Nissan is retaining a minority stake in AESC. Envision is looking forward to leveraging those batteries in its energy deployments. It currently says it connects over 50mn smart devices, managing them with EnOS. These devices include energy storage units, solar, wind, EVs, and home energy management systems (HEMS).

As for more direct plans, Envision says it will integrate the technologies to create intelligent batteries, as well as incorporate millions of EVs into future energy networks. EVs have been treated with a great deal of distrust from grid operators, because of the potential risk of commuters all returning home and plugging their cars in – an event that would draw a lot of electricity, and potentially cause outages.

The premise is simple – take an established maker of batteries with a proven track record, add a smattering of connectivity and application processing horsepower, and create an ‘intelligent battery’ that you can use in a smart grid deployment. This opens Envision up to more demand-response (DR), ancillary services, and renewables opportunities.

Lei Zhang, Envision’s founder and CEO, said “AESC’s lithium-ion batteries are among the most advanced, safe, and reliable in the industry. Their ability to power more than 340,000 Nissan electric vehicles without a single critical incident demonstrates AESC’s excellence in technology, design, thermal management, and energy management. As a company inspired by technological innovation, we are delighted to work with Nissan and the AESC team to drive further evolution of this technology and the battery sector.”

For Nissan, there’s perhaps an acknowledgment that batteries have progressed to a point where it doesn’t need to build them in-house – that it can trust the open market to build units up to snuff. It’s also a move that lets it concentrate more fully on building cars, rather than components, which is going to get more important as the EV market builds up, especially once self-driving vehicles become more prevalent too. Automakers are under pressure to become leaner, and this is a good example of that strategy in action.

Envision plans to upgrade the AESC production facilities, which are in Japan, the UK, and the US. It is hoping to be able to develop higher-density batteries, which will provide longer ranges for automakers. A new factory in Wuxi, China, is also planned, to access Chinese EV and stationary battery markets.

Those stationary battery projects are going to become quite lucrative for the likes of Envision. It has been clear for some time that batteries themselves are racing towards commodity status, the controller software has become the key to creating a valuable proposition.

This is a common tale in many areas in technology, and especially the IoT. The early movers focus on a combination of hardware and software, before eventually focusing on just the software, as more competition arrives in the hardware side of things. Similarly, if Envision was just competing on batteries, it could be ousted by a customer when a cheaper battery showed up. With the software, Envision gets stickier, and assuming it can keep EnOS competitive, then displacing it from an installation will be much trickier.

But that future market is a few years away. Currently, Envision counts AutoGrid, Bazefield, ChargePoint, and Sonnen as customers. There’s no immediate shortage of new customers, but of course, Tesla is a major player here, as well as Advanced Microgrid Solutions, Younicos’ Xtreme Power, and Doosan’s 1Energy. As of the acquisition, Envision says it is managing 100GW of energy assets globally.