A123 Becomes B456. No Kidding.

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., March 29, 2013 – I thought it was a joke, maybe an April Fools’ Day gag, or something from the Onion. An email landed in my inbox yesterday from a friend, asking if I’d seen that A123 Systems, the bankrupt battery maker and supplier to Fisker Automotive, the running on empty electric car company, had changed its name. To B456.

A123 stiffed the federal government, bailing out and selling out to a Chinese company, Wanxiang Group, after receiving a $250 million Department of Energy grant. Another triumph for the Obama plan to turn the economic stimulus program into an incubator for green technology.

Now it’s B456? You’ve got to be kidding. Nope, check it out, as Herb Jackson, the city editor at my first big-time daily journalism gig in Rochester, N.Y., often told me many years ago. And there it is, on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website, in an 8-K filing.

Says the official government document: “On March 22, 2013, A123 Systems, Inc. (the “Company”) filed a Certificate of Amendment to the Company’s Restated Certificate of Incorporation, as amended (the “Amendment”) to change its name from A123 Systems, Inc. to B456 Systems, Inc.  The Amendment was adopted in accordance with Section 303 of the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware and under an order by the Bankruptcy Court in connection with the Company’s proceeding under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  The Company filed the Amendment with the Secretary of State of the State of Delaware, and the Amendment became effective on March 22, 2013.”

A couple of years ago, I read a pretty good book – although it was far too optimistic — about the development of lithium ion battery technology, and I thought I remembered that A123 actually meant something. I was able to dredge the title out of memory and look it up in my Kindle archive. The book is “Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy” by Seth Fletcher. He notes that A123 is “the force constant used in the study of nanoparticles.” B456 appears to be a nonsense substitution, but I don’t know much about the physics of nanoparticles, so maybe I’m wrong.

I passed this information on to my friend Bob Peltier, the esteemed editor in chief of this magazine. He recalled, “When ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was being developed, the writers wanted to make HAL an IBM computer. IBM said no. So the writers moved one letter to the left to form HAL.”

And that sparked another memory about nomenclature. Thomas J. Watson, the IBM founder, had been a top salesman for National Cash Register. When he took over a struggling business tabulating company in 1924, he renamed it to be distinctively different than his former employer: International (not national) Business (not cash) Machines (not registers).