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Auto electric confusion?

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 11:58 -- Vic

It was a confusing week in Mainz. The only thing you could be sure about was that electrification of vehicles was not going away, but perhaps we’ve known that for some time. The thing we’re not sure about is; which DC bus voltage is going to dominate, 12V, 48V or higher; which chemistry is going to dominate and who is going to ‘win’. It’s all about winning surely? My money’s on LG Chem for now.

That’s why Menahem Anderman has been so useful and has been so successful. In starting his AABC series some 16 years ago, he put some order in the trends of electric and hybrid vehicle development and highlighted the technical issues that needed to be overcome in order for progress to be made. But more importantly, he’s been a master in forensic accounting and forecasting and has indicated where efficiencies and costs have to improve so that electric and hybrids could compete with their conventional rivals. AABC won’t be the same without him.

He’s been conservative and slightly pessimistic, but highly accurate predicting the dominance of Korean battery makers in the electric and hybrid vehicle space.  Some things were perhaps unforeseeable— the slump of 2008 which brought about the US Recovery Act and the boost to battery industry general. Now there’s what comes out of the ashes of today’s fall in commodity prices and fuel costs. But perhaps we could all have predicted that one day, China would have to tackle its choking environment by committing to zero emission vehicles— and what that would mean.

The battery space has become a thousand times more competitive and complicated in the period since 2008, which makes trend spotting harder. And as Dr Uwe Wiederman of AVl said last week “it’s probably more important now to have system engineering and modeling in place to determine the consequences of all the possible ‘what if’s’ that can be dreamed up,”— from choices in cell size, volume and chemistry, vehicle performance, pricing and so the list goes.

If a car-maker decides to alter just one parameter, what will the knock on effect be, in terms of delays and costs? All that affects the bottom line and making money is what the auto industry is about. Making things and innovating is hard. Making a profit and creating a sustainable business is even harder. Toyota showed the auto industry and the public how to make a hybrid car that delivers. The rest of the industry has followed suit but getting costs down has a long way to go if the customers are to come in big enough numbers.

AABC has been a valuable forum for the industry to examine those issues. And it will be diminished without an Anderman to put a structure on it all.