The year 2012 may be remembered as the time when many automakers, large and niche, felt they had to have an electric car option, with everything from the plug-in Prius to the Mitsubishi i to the long-awaited Tesla Model S finally hitting the market. All of this has occurred after the two big EV contenders of 2011, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, turned in disappointing early sales. Like in many nascent markets, there’s a lot of hope and a lot of disappointment. Fisker continues to struggle with recalls and financing, while GM has launched an ad campaign to prop up Volt sales. Meanwhile, there’s early hope surrounding the unveiling of the Tesla Model X prototype.
Acquisitions and investments chugged along in the smart-grid market. Toshiba-owned Landis+Gyr took out meter data management systems (MDMS) provider Ecologic Analytics in an acquisition that will allow Landis to add software to its global meter business. And everyone continues to await Silver Spring Networks’ IPO. In the meantime, the company strengthened its case by tripling revenue in 2011, showing its first gross profit in history. It also picked up capital from strategic partners EMC and Toshiba.
The quest for the low-power server continued in the green data-center space with one of the biggest and most important deals: AMD’s purchase of SeaMicro for $334 million. AMD gets SeaMicro’s fabric technology, which it can license to server OEMs that will want the tech in order to build a lower-power server for their customers. SeaMicro should get some help from AMD’s global customer contacts, along with access to capital to work on new low-power server configurations to serve a greater diversity of customers.
Finally, smart-thermostat darling Nest hit a snag when Honeywell slapped it with a broad patent-infringement lawsuit over IP related to building a learning thermostat. As much a competitive strategy as anything else, the suit shows that Honeywell has woken up to the threat of a new kid on the block, and it raises larger questions about how the patent and legal systems are being used these days by major corporations. In the short term, Nest likely will have to come to some kind of settlement with the multibillion-dollar company.