Munehisa Ikoma, Panasonic’s vice president and chief technical officer, predicts the market for Li-ion batteries for all applications will grow to 28 GWh hours of energy in fiscal 2015, up from 23 GWh in fiscal 2012. The automotive segment, according to the company’s forecast, will increase from 3 GWh to 15 GWh during the period.

Ikoma sees a similar growth pattern in battery value. Panasonic’s fiscal-2015 forecast calls for sales of ¥1.5 trillion ($16.1 billion), 36% more than this year’s estimated ¥1.1 trillion ($11.8 billion), with automotive demand growing from ¥230 billion ($2.4 billion) to ¥600 billion ($6.4 billion).

In the lead-acid battery segment, the executive predicts demand for eco-friendly systems such as stop/start will grow fourfold over the next three years to ¥181 billion ($1.9 billion).

LG Chem research executive Han Ho Lee says through 2012 the supplier delivered Li-ion batteries for an estimated 206,000 vehicles, including 54,000 PHEVs and 22,000 EVs. The company provides batteries for the Hyundai Avante and Sonata, Kia Forte and Optima hybrids; Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV; Ford Focus EV; Volvo V60 PHEV; and Renault Z.E. lineup.

According to its technology roadmap, the supplier plans to deliver hybrid batteries with power density of 5.2 kW/Kg in 2016 and 7.0 kW/kg in 2018. In the case of PHEVs and EVs, it is targeting energy density of 160 Wh/kg and 200 kWh/kg in 2016 and 190 Wh/kg and 250 Wh/kg in 2020.

Lee forecasts global production capacity of Li-ion batteries for automotive applications will reach 33 GWh in 2018.

Industry observers have varying views of the auto battery industry. Ali Izadi, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance says global EV and PHEV sales more than doubled in 2012, to 114,600 units. PHEVs, led by the Volt EREV and plug-in Prius, claimed a 55% share.

However, he warns, the industry is experiencing significant excess capacity in Li-ion battery production for automotive applications and this situation will continue for several more years.

Global production capacity grew to 28 GWh in 2012, he says. Counting new capacity in the pipeline, Izadi predicts the supply-demand imbalance will swell to 30 GWh in 2014, with capacity increasing to 36 GWh against 6 GWh of demand.

Li-ion passed nickel-metal hydride in 2012 as the primary EV/hybrid battery, claiming a 58% share of demand that totaled 3.6 GWh. Of the lithium total, 0.65 GWh and 1.35 GWh were installed in plug-in hybrids and EVs, respectively.

Nickel-metal-hydride claimed an estimated 95% of conventional hybrid vehicle demand. The remainder, limited to models such as the Honda Civic and Hyundai Sonata hybrids, was lithium.

Sales of conventional hybrids, mostly Toyotas and Hondas, rose to 1.7 million units in 2012, Izadi says.

In the battery-materials sector, Noboru Sato, former vice president of Samsung SDI, reports the Asian market for lithium battery materials totaled ¥447.3 billion ($4.7 billion) in 2011. 

Top producers include Hitachi Chemical with a 32% share in the negative-electrode materials; Ube Industries at 23% in electrolytes; Asahi Kasei, claiming 37% in separators; and Nichia, with a 19% share in positive-electrode materials.

Tetsuya Osaka, longtime industry-watcher currently employed at Waseda University in the School of Advanced Engineering, claims Japan is losing ground in the Li-ion market, with share falling to 35% in 2011 from 94% in the previous 10 years. During the period, South Korean producers have seen their market share grow to 39.5%.

Lei Zhou, Asia analyst for of Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting, reaffirms the Chinese government’s target of 500,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids in 2015 and 5 million in 2020. To achieve these levels, he says suppliers lower Li-ion battery module density and cost to 300 Wh/kg and RMB1,500 ($241) per kWh in 2020.

Zhou says sales of next-generation vehicles in the Chinese market, mostly to fleet users, totaled a mere 24,700 units in 2012. By type, these included 13,300 EVs, 10,400 conventional hybrids and 1,000 PHEVs. He admits the market still hasn't accepted the segment.