A123 Systems names new CEO

Automotive lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems is under new leadership.

The Livonia, Mich.-based supplier named Peter Cirino, former president of its European operations in Germany, as the company’s CEO, it said in a statement Monday.

Former CEO Jason Forcier left the company, effective Monday, after four years at the top. Representatives at A123 were not immediately available to comment on the reasons for his departure. Forcier did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Before joining A123 in May 2016, Cirino held various leadership positions at Pennsylvania-based sensor manufacturer TE Connectivity and AMP Inc.

He earned a bachelor’s from Cornell University and an MBA from Duke University.

“In addition to demonstrating a strong command over the European business since joining the company, Peter brings a wealth of knowledge and experience of the Asia Pacific region as well,” A123 Chairman Thomas Corcoran said in a statement. “He is a transformational leader who understands our industry, our customers and our employees. We are confident that his business acumen and values are definite fits to the role.”

Cirino takes over after a long road from startup to bankruptcy to buyout at A123.

Founded in 2001 out of materials developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., A123 was spun out from under the university in 2005, introducing a new fast-charging lithium ion battery based on revolutionary chemistries of nanophosphate materials.

The Department of Energy awarded A123 a $249 million grant via the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2009. It also received $125 million from Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.

A123 spent $300 million to retrofit a plant in Livonia, Mich. — the former home to Technicolor Inc., which vacated the building more than a decade ago.

The factory, the largest lithium ion plant in North America, produced a prismatic cell, a thin lithium ion battery around the size of a license plate, for use in battery packs in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. An EV battery pack requires around 400 cells.

But electrification never materialized on a mass scale, and the company’s fortunes soured.

A123 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 16, 2012, and owed millions of dollars to hundreds of debtors, including the Michigan cities of Livonia, Novi and Romulus. At the time, A123 held $376 million in debts with about $459.8 million in assets.

China’s Wanxiang Group acquired A123 out of bankruptcy with a $256.6 million bid and has steered the supplier back to black in recent years. It broke even for the first time in 2015.

A123 is expected to generate revenue of $500 million this year and exceed $1 billion in 2019, former CEO Forcier told Crain’s Detroit Business last year.

Most recently, A123 set out to build a $40 million headquarters in Novi, Mich., as part of a strategy that includes the shuttering of its battery cell production plant in Romulus, Mich., that resulted in 200 layoffs.

Located on a 32-acre site, A123’s new headquarters will house a 150,000-square-foot campus, more laboratory space and a battery assembly plant, the company said in April. Construction is expected to begin in the third quarter with a completion date by the end of 2018.