Saft buys out JV partner and announces lith-ion investment

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French battery maker Saft is preparing to go it alone in India after buying out JV partner AMCO in a move that will herald the nation’s first lith-ion battery production facilities.

Having announced the buy-out in a press release last week, a Saft India spokesperson told pv magazine the company’s nickel cadmium factory in Bidadi, near Bangalore, will be used for the assembly of li-ion batteries, with a new production line inaugurated last week.

“We have a 4,500 sq m shopfloor for making these batteries, [a] 150-plus highly trained and experienced workforce as well as a small development center to look at customizations,” said the spokesperson. “The factory can produce nearly 80 MWh years [worth of batteries] per year, with capacity to expand.”

However hopes the development could mean a breakthrough for electric vehicle transport in India – which has lagged EV and charging point adoption rates in other markets – were dashed.

No plans for EV battery production

“Saft’s focus is on railways, telecom etc,” confirmed the company spokesperson. “Saft does not manufacture batteries for cars. Saft does have batteries for EVs like e-buses, industrial vehicles like forklifts etc. [but] Saft has not announced any plans to make car batteries.”

Announcing the purchase of the 49% shareholding in AMCO Saft India Ltd that Total-owned Saft did not already hold with a press release on Friday, Guy-Patrick de Broglie, General Manager of the newly-launched Saft India said: “Now, we are looking to strengthen our leadership position in India with an increased focus on rail, telecom and infrastructure. That is why we are increasing our investment in our plant, in both lithium-ion and nickel technologies. This will allow us to continue to be more responsive to the needs of our Indian customers.”

Saft’s JV with AMCO was agreed in 2005, when the French battery maker was owned by private equity firm Doughty Hanson Funds. The manufacturer has since been owned by Goldman Sachs International and French oil and gas giant Total ‘repatriated’ Saft by purchasing its stock and delisting it in 2016.

Saft’s investment will help ‘Make in India’ manufacturing drive

“We are increasing our focus on India now – as Saft India – to support the Indian government, the Make in India program and Indian industries,” said Franck Cecchi, Executive Vice President for the Industrial Standby Division – and Chairman of the Board – of Saft India, in Friday’s announcement.

The Indian government is pushing for the establishment of domestic manufacturing in solar and related industries as part of its attempt to counter cheap solar imports from the Far East.

Saft, which marks it’s 100th anniversary this year, has not revealed what the value of the deal was to its JV partner.

AMCO Power Systems Ltd is the nickel cadmium battery business of Indian conglomerate Amalgamations Group, based in Chennai. The Indian partner, ironically, boasts expertise in automobile batteries.

This article was amended at 1400 on 25/09/18 in the light of responses Saft India made to pv magazine‘s enquiries.