Honda Motor is interested in developing electric car batteries in China to tap the country’s technology and vast resources, its chief executive has said, adding that a breakthrough was needed to bring the zero-emission cars into the mainstream.

“If there is a suitable chance, we hope to work with China to (develop) batteries,” Honda chief executive Takanobu Ito told Reuters on Tuesday in southern China, where he announced a plan to boost annual production capacity by a third to 480,000 units at a Chinese joint venture, Guangqi Honda.

“There needs to be a major breakthrough in battery technology,” Ito said, predicting it would take 10-20 years before battery-run electric cars became mainstream. Japan’s second largest automaker would instead focus on hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles for the near term, he said.

Honda is considering bringing electric cars in limited numbers to the United States, Europe and Japan, but unlike many rivals has no strategic partner with which it has committed to developing batteries for the vehicles.

Honda has a joint venture with GS Yuasa to collaborate on lithium-ion batteries specifically for hybrid cars, and has said the two could work together on electric car batteries too, if the need arose, the news agency noted.

GS Yuasa already develops and produces electric car batteries in a joint venture with Mitsubishi Motors.

Honda sold about 580,000 vehicles in China last year – about half what it sold in its most profitable US market – but Ito said China was growing in importance, and had the potential to become its top market after 10 years.

He also said he expected annual US car sales to bounce back to 15-16m in the next three to five years.

Analysts forecast US car sales to reach 11-12.5m this year, versus just 10.4m in 2009 at the height of the global recession.