NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As electric car trends continue to gain momentum in 2011, investors are desperate to learn what's in store for makers of the rechargeable batteries that will be powering them.
"The lithium battery business could become very large depending on the market's acceptance of electric cars and hybrids, how quickly battery costs can be lowered and the extent of government subsidies," Wunderlich analyst Theo O'Neill says. Under the heading of "electric car acceptance," General Motors (GM) has raised its planned production rate of plug-in hybrid electric Chevrolet Volts to 60,000 a year by 2012, from the initial planned production rate of 30,000 a year, according to D.A. Davidson analyst Avinash Kant, who cites industry sources in an equity research report. General Electric (GE) recently announced that it will buy 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015 -- almost half of them from GM, including the 2011 Chevy Volt.
Needham analyst Michael Lew believes that lithium battery separator producer Polypore (PPO) is positioned to "usher in a new era of transportation," owing to its technical advantage.
Polypore recently announced a $32 million lithium separator production expansion project to meet the expected rev up in electric vehicle demand, adding to a number of its other expansion projects around the world. "This is not a 'build it and they will come' strategy, in our view, as management noted definitive 'line of sight' into demand linked to specific customer vehicle programs," BB&T analyst Kevin Maczka said in a note.
Reflecting Maczka's view is Ardour analyst JinMing Liu, who views Polypore's ramp-up of production capacity and debt-load reduction as a sign of its "prudent decisions" with capital. Needham's Lew notes that while there is no guarantee Valence (VLNC) will find a favorable resolution for its intellectual property disputes, and no guarantee it can lower costs and expenses to make its products more affordable or stay competitive amongst peers with larger assets, he sees "accelerated" market adoption of the company's products due to its reliable technology. Fleets, including those of transit buses -- one Valence customer group -- require reliable technology to deliver "on time" services, Lew pointed out. MDB Capital analyst Jon Hickman tells clients that though Valence's fiscal 2010 revenue of $16.1 million was lower than he had expected, he's encouraged by the company's recent order trends and management's comments about its large and growing backlog of orders.
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