* Seeking partnerships with lithium-ion cell makers
* Looking at auto parts suppliers for deals
* Not interested in automakers after failed Opel deal (Adds battery manufacturing, more comments, byline)
By Soyoung Kim
DETROIT, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Magna International Inc MGa.TO is looking to strike partnership deals with battery cell manufacturers as it seeks to power a wave of electric vehicles under development with its products, its co-CEO said on Wednesday.
The Canada-based auto supplier is also looking at a number of parts suppliers for potential acquisitions but is no longer interested in taking over automakers, co-CEO Don Walker told Reuters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.
Magna has said it will focus on its core auto-parts business and is not considering taking over any other automakers after the collapse of a deal to buy a stake in General Motors Co’s [GM.UL] Opel European unit in November.
Walker said the company wants to become a manufacturer of lithium-ion battery packs and is open to setting up battery manufacturing facilities in North America. One battery pack, assembled from hundreds of cells, powers one electric vehicle.
“We think lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles are the best technology,” Walker said.
“We’ve been working on batteries for many years so we think we know pretty all the players (in cell manufacturing). We have our opinion of who the winners and losers can be,” he said.
The automotive market for lithium-ion batteries, mostly found in mobile phones and computer laptops, is expected to grow rapidly with every major global automaker rushing to bring out electric vehicles in the next two to three years.
Walker also said the supplier — the world’s fourth-largest in 2008 — hopes to expand in emerging markets such as China and Brazil, and in component areas that will support the development of electric cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We are keeping a close watch on what’s out there,” he said.
“We’re looking at a number of different acquisitions. Powertrains are going to grow and change as we get into electric vehicles and hybrids. Geographic areas we want to grow are China, Brasil, India .... Russia will be a growth market,” Walker said.
“At the end of the day, they have to make financial sense as well as strategic sense.”
Walker said the number of major suppliers could be “dramatically reduced” over the next 5-10 years as automakers still have excess production capacity and turn to a few financially healthy suppliers.
Asked about Magna’s failed attempt to buy Opel, he said Magna never had a strategy to go after automakers and added the bid was a “one-time situation.”
GM’s board reversed its decision to sell a 55 percent stake in Germany-based Opel to Magna and its Russian partners, Sberbank SBER03.MM and vehicle maker GAZ Group.
“I think if all had been settled and done, probably more good than bad, but relatively neutral,” Walker said.
Negotiations with its Russian partners have also allowed Magna to expand a foothold in what is expected to be fast-growing market, he said.
“We have a very good relationship with them (Gaz), and we’re always looking for strategic alliances supporting them,” Walker said.