We were virtually in Germany today to hear of Volkswagen’s exciting plans to develop its electric vehicle business. The future for the German giant is ‘e-mobility’ and no less than VW’s group boss Herbert Diess told us so: “E-mobility has become core business for us. We are now systematically integrating additional stages in the value chain. We secure a long-term pole position in the race for the best battery and best customer experience in the age of zero emission mobility”. New technology at VW will see battery costs reduce by up to 50% and this is reduction in cost is vital for any mass uptake of electric cars. The science behind the developments in battery technology VW is embracing is impressive. The shift to lower cost and more efficient battery types were signaled as vital components to make EVs the central element in VW’s journey. We were told that 80% of VW’s electric vehicles will in the near future use just one common battery type. This ‘unified cell’ concept will help VW reduce costs of EV production. “We aim to reduce the cost and complexity of the battery and at the same time increase its range and performance”, says Thomas Schmall, Volkswagen Group Board Member for Technology. “This will finally make e-mobility affordable and the dominant drive technology.” The new Unified cell will also be a fundamental change in how cars will be designed and built too. The car’s design will start with the battery choice and then its traditional design will be built out from there. So when will VW start this transformation? In 2023 this unified cell concept will start and by 2030 VW says it will reach its 80% saturation claim.
“We aim to reduce the cost and complexity of the battery and at the same time increase its range and performance”, says Thomas Schmall, Volkswagen Group Board Member for Technology. “This will finally make e-mobility affordable and the dominant drive technology.” VW explained the ’closed loop of the battery cell’ i.e. from battery creation, its use (1st and 2nd use) and ultimately its disposal. The closed loop has a big impact on an EV’s cost to the consumer. Precious elements like nickel, manganese, and cobalt are the prime ingredients in today’s batteries and the ratio and way they are used today adds to their high cost. VW has developed a new way of packing batteries in a modular way to reduce production costs and increase flexibility. Advances in storage capacity and fast-charging capability are expected in addition to cost benefits. The new prismatic unified cell also offers the best conditions for the transition to the solid state cell – the next quantum leap in battery technology, which Volkswagen anticipates for the middle of the decade. Ultimately ‘Solid State’ batteries in electric vehicles are the goal as they are most efficient and effective choice for VW. Their charging time is roughly half the time of lithium-ion packs used today. There is also the benefit of weight reduction as solid state batteries are much lighter – at least 100kgs compared to the best car batteries of today. We know EVs can be plugged back in to buildings to provide an emergency power source if needed or the EV’s excess charge can be sold back to the grid but, the adoption of this ability is slow or non-existent in some markets (cough). A nice line from the presentation was the simple statement that
“Electric cars will become mobile power banks”. Volkswagen is increasing overall its battery plants capacity to meet its own demand. By 2030 it will have six battery ‘giga-factories’ with a total output of 240GWh in Europe alone. The new unified cell production capacity will be doubled compared to the present output. So VW will deliver lots of more affordable EVs but what about the charging network? 18,000 fast-charging points will be added in Europe (this is a five-fold expansion). VW is also making sure its production methods from mining to end of life is cutting edge and as green as possible… (ed. We’ve come along way from ‘diesel gate’!) Exciting times at VW.