A few years back, a little-known company called A123 put up two videos on its website touting its lithium-ion battery technology.
One video showed a nail piercing a traditional lithium-ion battery. It immediately burst into flames – not exactly the kind of technology you want to stick into your hybrid car. The other video showed a nail driven through A123's iron-phosphate version of the lithium-ion battery and creating some smoke, but no fire.
On Thursday, that little Watertown, Mass., battery company created some stock-market fireworks. It went public and saw its stock price rocket 50 percent in its first day of trading. AONE, as its stock is listed on the Nasdaq, rose from $13.50 to $20.29 a share.
There are other big steps A123 and other American advanced-battery manufactures still have to take. China, Japan, and Korea have a head start. GM has chosen the technology of South Korea's LG for its 2010 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, although that does not preclude a deal with A123 in the future.
All the batterymakers will have to slash production costs. In the end, their future may be determined more by the price of oil than the zip of their technology.
Still, the industry's potential is huge. For the moment, the eyes of many investors are on A123 and its prospects for capitalizing on a future growth industry.
Here's the original A123 lithium-ion video and a companion video that, if not the original, certainly looks a lot like it. Which one would you want in your car?