PARIS – French auto maker Renault SA is developing electric-vehicle lithium-ion batteries with two new suppliers, despite its heavy reliance on the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.-NEC Tokin Corp. joint venture, Automotive Energy Supply Corp.

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn earlier this year declared owning battery technology is a core requirement for any auto maker.

"We are ready to sell the battery to whoever is interested," he said in October, referring to the batteries from the AESC. "We are making it a core business, because we think the battery is going to be an essential piece of technology for our century.”

Last month, AESC announced it was raising production capacity from 65,000 to 100,000 units annually in Japan.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance is building a 100,000-unit battery factory in France with support from the French atomic energy commission and the French Strategic Investment Fund.

In South Korea, Renault Samsung Motors Inc. is working with SK Energy Co. Ltd. and SB LiMotive Co. Ltd to develop Li-ion batteries.

At a press event to introduce the new SM5 sedan, Renault Samsung CEO Jean-Marie Hurtiger tells journalists Renault plans to build EVs in South Korea and is working on projects with the two local battery makers.

SK Energy is a petrochemical and energy company that began making Li-ion batteries for mobile devices in 2005. SB LiMotive is a 2008 JV between Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH and Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. that recently announced its first contract with BMW AG.

"We plan to produce Renault Group's electric vehicles in Korea,” Hurtiger says. “And once the government's plans are finalized, we will take our position as to when electric vehicles will be mass-produced in Korea."

The SM5 was unveiled at the Renault Samsung technical center in Giheung, where SB LiMotive also has its headquarters. Hurtiger says he expects South Korea to be a major supplier of EV batteries, thanks to a strong industry and strong support of the government.

The executive notes Renault will build the four EVs exhibited at this year’s Frankfurt auto show at four different plants, three of which have been announced.

Production is to begin in first-half 2011 for the Kangoo light-commercial EV in Maubeuge, France; Twizy 2-seater in Valladolid, Spain; Fluence sedan in Bursa, Turkey; and the Zoe, a 4-seat city car, in Flins, France.

SK Energy has developed six different Li-ion cells for hybrid, plug-in and battery EVs and was chosen in October to supply Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. HEVs – one of the projects of Daimler AG’s global hybrid center, which owns Mitsubishi Fuso.

SB LiMotive has development operations in Giheung, Stuttgart and Orion Township, MI. In Springboro, OH, it makes nickel-metal-hydride batteries in an operation acquired from Energy Conversion Devices and is building a factory in Ulsan, Korea, for Li-ion battery production.

At the Frankfurt show, SB LiMotive President Young said he expects to begin series production of Li-ion batteries for hybrids in 2011 and EVs in 2012.

Renault invested $344 million to develop the third-generation SM5 midsize sedan, which uses many elements of the current Renault Laguna. Production began at the Busan, South Korea, plant in October, with domestic sales to begin in January.

The SM5’s 2.0L engines were developed by Nissan (gasoline) and Renault (diesel). Alain Diboine, who heads research and development at Renault Samsung, says the body of the new SM5 was developed at the local technical center for the first time.

Renault will sell the SM5 in Europe as a Renault, probably called the Safrane, which was the name of the car that preceded the first Laguna in the upper-medium segment. The auto maker currently sells the second-generation SM5 as a Renault Safrane in Middle Eastern markets.

The SM5 has 3-zone air conditioning, an air filter and perfume diffuser, bi-xenon adaptive front lights and a massage function for the driver that the auto maker says improves blood circulation and combats fatigue. In Korea, it will compete with the segment leading Hyundai Sonata.