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EV Batteries: cell costs down, but not enough - insights of Uwe Wiedemann, AVL

09 August 2012

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We know for more than 120 years that electric vehicles are technologically feasible, but when it comes to being able to replace ICEs without a premium price, it is still very difficult, especially because of the battery. Uwe Wiedemann, Product Manager in the Global Battery Competence Team at AVL, give his insights on battery systems cost and market development. Could you briefly explain what is AVL and its link to the EV industry?

Uwe Wiedemann: AVL is the largest independent engineering service provider with globally more than 5,000 engineers working in the automotive industry. We are working in engine development, transmission development, electric motor development, controls development and battery development. Based on the assessment of electrochemical cells we design, develop and validate battery systems including battery management system. Despite the money and attention put on safety for electric vehicles, we hear every week about an incident involving an electric vehicle. Is it only bad press and the same happens for ICEs or is there really something that needs to be improved?

Uwe Wiedemann: In Europe there is no major issue when it comes to battery safety. Also in China the latest major accident involving a BYD vehicle would have occurred with an ICE because of the velocity at which this accident happened. Everyone in the field is focusing on the safety aspect of the battery. Most issues are related to battery price, safety, lifetime: Can these issues being solved by using better battery design and better BMS?

Uwe Wiedemann: 80 to 90 percent of all battery systems failures in the field are not cell-related, therefore meaning that battery design and proper BMS development can enhance the reliability of batteries. About the price, cell costs are dropping dramatically and beyond our expectations. As we have already reached a limit of €200 per kWh (if you buy enough cells), there is a need to look at total system costs, which need to be reduced. Some of our programs are related to low cost systems in which new BMS designs play a major role as BMS represent a significant part of the cost of the system, especially with cell cost dropping. AVL is designing powertrain systems: Is there any update in electric motors?

Uwe Wiedemann: The power density and cost are major factors for electric motors. AVL is looking at holistic projects of powertrains design to bring down costs on the powertrain level, not just on the battery level, because working on many components give you the flexibility to distribute functionalities to improve the overall system efficiency. So our next generation R&D vehicle we will present, will include power electronics, battery system, controls and electric motor with innovative cooling concepts by AVL. What do you think about EV transmission with two- three-gears?

Uwe Wiedemann: Maybe not at this time but it will be a solution that is also considered by AVL. Our transmission and development department is also looking into two-gear transmissions for electric vehicles so our next generation program R&D vehicle is assessing the possibility of a two-gear transmission as well. What do you see being the greatest threat to the EV industry?

Uwe Wiedemann: First of all, safety, and then, reliability, because safety topics can stop xEVs immediately and reliability will refrain people from buying electric vehicles when they will be available at dealerships. What is your feeling about the EV industry. Is the hype over? Can companies start to make a business case from electric vehicles?

Uwe Wiedemann: I think companies will make a business case from EVs as the costs are really dropping faster than everybody expected. Volume just needs to grow. What do you see being the greatest incentive so far for customers? (access to bus lanes, free parking, tax rebate, etc.)

Uwe Wiedemann: I think that cannot be answered globally as it highly depends on the local situation. When it comes to really crowded cities, having a reserved parking space or reserved parking area is priceless, whereas in other areas where parking is not a problem, financial incentives are often wanted. However, financial benefits as incentive are only feasible for a certain period, maybe to only bridge the time until the car prices go down. If you were asked to formulate a global action plan for a rapid introduction of electric vehicles, what would be your top 3 points on the agenda?

Uwe Wiedemann: First of all, all OEM should be forced to offer at least one electric vehicle in the near future with an attractive price. Secondly, the premium price, EV owners have to pay today should be taken care of by the OEM or government. Third would be to introduce a proper infrastructure so the range anxiety can be overcome, because most of the time everybody is saying that they are building the charging infrastructure, but it is not there yet so people are afraid to buy an EV and not being able to charge where they need.


Richard Marks

Good interview. The issue with price always needs to be at a systems level and not at a cell level. Media needs to ask more intelligent questions. 200 € is cell level, probably. The other issue is that not all batteries have same quality level. China's prices are very low, but I question quality and testing done by Chinese manufacturer. Why is cell life cycle quoted as good for 2,000 cycles, but battery company will only guarantee pack for 1 year? 2k cycles should be about 10 years. When asked about any pack or module data, it is much lower. Watch out for the half truths!
I think AVL is on the right track with 2 speed transmissions. This has been obvious for at least the last 20 years!
What is missing and what AVL can't say is that today's auto-OEM's do not want electric cars. EV's represent a very disruptive change to the current car business model for the OEM, their dealers and the service industries! EV's last longer, have much less maintenance and with a new battery at 10 years, could last 20 years. This could drastically reduce yearly production sales which the OEM's need to pay off their extremely high capital intensive business.
There is nothing in it for car companies. They are just like the Swiss watch makers who invented the electronic watch but only they knew how to make precision geared and jewels watches! Now the Swiss make a few very expensive mechanical watches and they aren't as good as a $3 battery watch from China!
added 2012-08-09 23:26:06

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