The planned U.S. launch of a hybrid Mercedes SUV next year is in danger of being delayed, and the ML 450 project may even be cancelled altogether. The reason is the lack of availability of suitable batteries for the hybrid vehicle, according to largely unanimous reports in US media and in today’s edition of the Stuttgart newspaper.
According to the report, the U.S. company Cobasys, a specialist in nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) technology for power storage, will supply batteries for the SUV. However, the company, which is headquartered in the US state of Michigan and has production facilities in the state of Ohio, is not able to start battery production on time. The reason for this, according to reports, is that the two Cobasys shareholders – the U.S. oil company Chevron and the U.S. company Energy Conversion Devices (ECD Ovonics), which is also listed on the stock exchange – stopped financing their loss-making subsidiary last year, so that Cobasys is de facto unable to operate. Truncated by industry participants’ estimates, Cobasys posted a loss of $76 million in 2007 and faces an expansion to $82 million (52.6 million euros) in the current year, reports the Stuttgarter Zeitung.
In an effort to force Cobasys to supply the batteries, Daimler AG filed a lawsuit last week in a district court in the U.S. state of Alabama, where the Mercedes Landing Car plant is located, the daily continues. "Without a reliable source of supply for this critical part, Mercedes-Benz cannot meet its launch schedule", the newspaper quotes from the statement of claim. And further: Mercedes-Benz may be forced to abandon the vehicle project altogether or postpone the start of production planned for June 2009, at least for a longer period of time. No other manufacturer can deliver a battery with the specifications agreed between Mercedes and Cobasys in time. The court should therefore order Cobasys to start production immediately. In addition, the car manufacturer is demanding damages of an undisclosed amount.
With the ML 450, Mercedes wanted to launch the most fuel-efficient SUV in its class with a fuel consumption of 7.7 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers in order to restimulate demand for SUVs despite the rise in fuel prices and to restart production at the SUV plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which had recently had to be shortened.
In recent times, there has been speculation in the U.S. media that the ailing auto giant GM was interested in acquiring a majority stake in Cobasys. This has not yet materialized. However, it seems obvious that no North American car manufacturer is interested in the fact that a foreign company like Daimler could profit from a technical lead in the once so popular SUV segment.