Has Daimler just knocked Tesla off its pedestal?
Tesla Motors might have it sights on building the its first gigafactory, the world’s biggest lithium-ion manufacturing and reprocessing facility to date, but a brand new contract between South Korean firm LG Chem and Daimler AG means that for now, Tesla won’t be number one when it comes to manufacturing the most automotive-grade lithium-ion battery packs.
According to an official press release made on Tuesday by LG Chem, the firm has just been selected by Daimler AG as the supplier of lithium-ion battery cells for the next-generation 2017 Smart ForTwo electric car.
The current model year car — which retains the outgoing body style of the old 2014 model-year Smart ForTwo rather than the all-new body style of the 2015 gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo, offers an EPA-approved range of 68 miles per charge and an everyday ‘achievable’ range somewhere between 40 and 80 miles per charge, depending on the weather conditions and terrain.
Previous generations of the Smart ForTwo EV — previously called the Smart ForTwo ED — have been built with a variety of different battery pack technologies, ranging from 12 kilowatt-hour molten salt (sodium-nickel chloride) ‘Zebra’ batteries in the first-generation, limited production 2007 Smart ForTwo prototypes through to a 16.5 kilowatt-hour Tesla Motors lithium-ion battery pack in the second-generation 2009 Smart ForTwo and finally a more powerful, 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery from Daimler-owned subsidiary Deutsche ACCUmotive for the current 2012-2015 model year car.
Why move away from its own wholly-owned battery supplier? Well, while it might appear that way, we’re suspecting that’s not exactly the case. While Daimler will look to LG Chem for battery cells, we’re suspecting the assembly of those cells into battery packs will still be carried out by Deutsche ACCUmotive.
Daimler, like many other automakers, has dramatically expanded its investment in lithium-ion battery manufacturing and plug-in vehicle development as a way to help it meet increasingly tough global fuel economy and emissions standards. With multiple plug-in hybrid models planned across its various brands — ranging from high-end cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class plug-in hybrid luxury sedan through to more mainstream models like the Smart For Two EV — Daimler’s demand for battery packs is skyrocketing.
But while Daimler may be able to produce its own battery packs through Deutsche ACCUmotive, developing and producing the cells themselves is a costly and expensive business. As we discovered when visiting Nissan’s own lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in Sunderland, England last year, building battery packs from pre-assembled cells requires semi clean-room facilities. Producing the cells themselves requires the kind of clean-room practices and equipment normally reserved for the semiconductor industry.
LG Chem, as a leading battery manufacturer, already produces lithium-ion cells for thirteen different global automakers out of the top 20 global brands, including GM, Ford, Hyundai and Renault. It already has the expertise and the equipment to make battery cells at a far higher volume and lower cost than we’re guessing Daimler could manage at the current time.
Although we’re sure battery cost and volume was a deciding factor for the new partnership, we’re also guessing that LG Chem’s latest battery technology — which it promised last year would soon make a super energy-dense battery pack capable of providing at least 200 miles of range per charge.
Far more advanced than its previous battery technology, this wonder battery pack is likely to find itself into Chevrolet’s upcoming 2017 Bolt electric car. We’re sure it may find itself into other automaker’s cars too, and Daimler could very well be at the top of the list.
That’s because while the Smart ForTwo’s compact dimensions and tall body are best suited to an electric rather than internal-combustion engine setup, its tiny frame means that space really is limited for an on-board battery pack.
The result? To date, the Smart ForTwo ED has remained very much a city car thanks to its limited battery capacity.
A super-compact, energy-dense battery pack built on LG Chem’s next-generation technology could change that however, enabling perhaps a range in excess of 100 miles per charge.
Using such a pack could also explain why Daimler made the decision to delay the rollout of an electric model based on the all-new 2015 Smart ForTwo and Smart ForFour models as it would give LG Chem time to fully refine its next-gen battery technology ahead of mass production.
We also note too that the all-new platform on which the 2016 gasoline Smart range is built upon — and on which the 2017 Smart ForTwo EV will be based — has been jointly developed with the Renault-Nissan alliance.
Lion Electric to Construct US EV Manufacturing Facility
Who is Lion Electric?
Founded in 2008, is an innovative manufacturer of all-electric, zero-emissions, medium and heavy-duty urban vehicles. Lion Electric designs, manufactures, and assembles all components for its vehicles that have unique features specifically adapted to the users and their needs. “We believe that transitioning to all-electric vehicles will lead to major improvements in our society, environment and overall quality of life,” believes Lion Electric.
Lion Electric’s new Illinois Manufacturing Facility
Just two months after announcing plans to construct a battery manufacturing plant and innovation centre in Quebec, Lion Electric is expanding its locations further, selecting Joliet, Illinois for its new manufacturing facility in the US.
The new facility is said to “represent the largest dedicated production site for zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the US,” as well as being the company’s biggest footprint in the market. The new facility will give Lion Electric the capacity to meet increasing demand for ‘Made in America’ zero-emission vehicles and bring production closer to customers.
It is expected that the first vehicles off the production line will be in the second half of 2022.
“Lion’s historic investment to bring its largest production facility to Illinois represents not only a win for our communities, but a strong step forward in our work to expand clean energy alternatives and the jobs they bring to our communities,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“The new Joliet facility will put Illinois at the forefront of a national movement to transition to zero-emission vehicle use, advancing our own goals of putting one million of these cars on the road by 2030. In Illinois, we know that a clean energy economy is about more than just vehicles – it’s about healthier communities and jobs for those who live there. We are excited to welcome Lion to the Land of Lincoln and look forward to their future success here.”
Lion Electric’s Agreement with the Government of Illinois
Over the next three years, Lion Electric will invest a minimum of US$70mn into Illinois. The new facility - totalling 900,000 square feet - is expected to create a minimum of 745 clean energy direct jobs in the next three years, and have an annual production capacity of up to 20,000 all electric buses and trucks.
Scaling electric bus production and decarbonising freight and transportation
As the US moves to electrifying its school buses, the additional production capacity at the facility will help Lion Electric to scale its electric bus production, as well as produce an increased volume of heavy-duty zero-emission trucks to help governments and operators in the US further the decarbonisation of freight and transportation fleets.
“Lion is the leader in electric school buses and has always been dedicated to the U.S. market, and our commitment to be close to our customers is one of the core values we have as a company. This significant expansion into the U.S. market will not only allow us to drastically increase our overall manufacturing capacity of electric trucks and buses but to also better serve our customers, while adding critical clean manufacturing jobs that will form the backbone of the green economy,” said Marc Bedard, CEO and Founder of Lion.
“I also want to acknowledge the crucial role that P33 and Intersect Illinois, civic groups committed to developing developing a long-term roadmap for the local tech industry, played in connecting Lion with the Chicago area’s business and civic community to help further commercial traction, as well as engagement with key workforce and supplier partners.”