The fires reported by General Motors (NYSE: GM ) earlier this week were just the latest in a string of bad news for battery makers. It has also left battery manufacturers scrambling to reassure customers that their chemistry is safe.
Valence Technology (Nasdaq: VLNC ) released a press release reiterating that its batteries were safe and GM and LG Chem are working hard to try to find the root cause.
Before we get too worked up about a battery fire a week after a crash test, I will point out that new technologies often have hiccups like this and since it doesn't appear to be immediately dangerous to drivers it shouldn't be a long-term problem. As a former research and development engineer who started an inadvertent fire or two, I have confidence they'll solve the problem.
But maybe, just maybe, the Chevy Volt fire will be good for A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE ) . The Volt battery is made by LG Chem, a Korean company that won the contract over A123 when the company was in its infancy. If A123 can prove to have safer technology, this could help it win contracts in the future.
Pink slips at A123 Systems
For now, A123 has to deal with its own problems of slower-than-expected demand and mounting losses. That has forced the company to lay off 125 workers at its plant in Michigan. The company says the layoffs are temporary, but the way things are going right now, who knows if they'll ever come back.
This isn't the end of the world
The battery fire is bad news for everyone from A123 Systems to Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA ) and Toyota (NYSE: TM ) . As these companies try to overcome high costs and uneasy customers, every bad news story is bad for the industry. But I don't think this is what will determine the success or failure of electric cars. For that we have to look at consumer demand, which simply isn't strong for EVs right now. That's more important than a fire that will leave the headlines in a week or two.