CuO/C nanowires on Cu foils have been fabricated over a large area by the simple carbonization of preadsorbed glucose on CuO nanowires at 260 °C in argon gas. The structure and morphology of the CuO/C nanowires were examined by using X-ray diffraction (XRD), thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA), field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). And the electrochemical performance as anode material for lithium-ion batteries was further evaluated by charge–discharge measurements. The novel architecture possesses both the electroactivity of carbon and the electrochemical advantages of metal oxide on conductive substrate. The synergetic effect is beneficial for the use in Li ion batteries of CuO/C composites, such as a high initial discharge capacity of 730 mAh g− 1, improved initial Coulombic efficiency (83%) and reversible capacity of 460 mAh g− 1 after 40 cycles. It was believed that the advantages of composites materials were responsible for the excellent electrochemical performance.