By Kim Yoo-chul
SK Energy has been chosen as the maker to supply car batteries to Daimler AG's Japanese unit Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp.
This means that the nation's biggest oil refiner has finally joined the ranks of LG Chem and Samsung SDI in the fierce competition to become the leader in the car batteries market.
"Our company was selected to supply lithium-ion batteries to Mitsubishi Fuso's gasoline-electric vehicles Saturday," it said in a press release Sunday, without providing detailed financial terms.
"The agreement will help SK Energy participate in various hybrid and electric vehicle projects of Daimler as a preferred supplier."
According to industry watchers and analysts, SK Energy is seeking other opportunities to have further partnerships with other world-leading automotive companies such as Mercedes-Benz, although SK spokesmen declined to comment.
Germany-based Daimler owns 85 percent of Fuso, with the remainder held by companies in the Mitsubishi group. Mitsubishi Fuso is Asia's top large-sized vehicle manufacturer, selling some 190,000 buses and trucks as of the end of 2007, officials say.
The latest deal came among eco-friendliness sweeping through the global auto industry thanks to states' active support for greener technologies and consumers' increased awareness.
Driving it forward are batteries that are emerging as a new power source for hybrid and electric cars, replacing gasoline engines.
This move has spawned a big market which everyone wants a piece of. Currently, South Korea's LG Chem and Samsung SDI have a large stake in the global car batteries market.
LG Chem will supply its lithium-ion batteries to the upcoming General Motors' Volt hybrid cars, the first of its models to use electricity as a main power source.
LG Chem has also struck a partnership with Buick for the latter's sports utility vehicles, and plans to provide rechargeable batteries to CT&T for neighborhood electric vehicles.
Samsung SDI is also working to supply its batteries to BMW's electric cars next year via a joint venture with Bosch called "SB LiMotive."
"The competition for the leadership in supplying lithium-ion batteries used in cars spurred by SK Energy's recent deal is getting fiercer and fiercer," Ahn Sang-hee, an analyst at Daishin Securities, said.