Sweden Pushing Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle Development

29 April 2008

Sweden, home to an automotive cluster represented by brands such as SAAB, Scania and Volvo, along with some 1,000 suppliers, is looking to expand its research and development of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Delegates from the Swedish automotive industry will be present at the upcoming Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference and Symposia (AABC) in Tampa, Florida, 12-16 May, with the aim of strengthening the Swedish vehicle battery cluster with further investment.

Representatives will highlight Swedish hybrid technology projects, including the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre (SHC).

The only vehicle with zero emission in the tailpipe is an electrical vehicle. Our biggest challenge at the moment is the energy storage needed to realise this.

—Hans Folkesson, chairman of SHC

Volvo, SAAB, energy company Vattenfall, and ETC Battery and FuelCells Sweden are already partnering with the Swedish State and the Swedish Energy Agency on a five-year, $40-million joint-venture project to develop next-generation plug-in hybrid vehicles. (Earlier post.) Comments If Volvo and or Saab had still been fully independent Swedish companies, no doubt they would already have hybrid vehicles on the road and plug in not far behind. It would perfectly fit their image for being on the forefront of vehicle development. Right now, they have to tow the corporate line. Yeah, I was pretty shocked to hear that Saab's BioPower concept car they showed at the auto shows this year was actually a plug-in hybrid. GM made em cover up the plug and keep that part under their hat to avoid making the rest of GM look bad. The PHEV idea has merit, but when you look at the costs of the Hymotion 5kwh pack at$10,000 to go maybe 20 miles in EV mode, I wonder. I know people will say that prices will come down as volume goes up, but how much? The curve may not be to produce twice as many and they cost half as much. You might produce 10 times as many and they cost 10% less. Until that is clear, it is not clear that PHEVs are the big breakthrough.

SJC: The OEMs could do an original equipment PHEV equivalent to the Prius with the Hymotion conversion for no more than half the incremental cost when you consider that the battery is only 5kwh ($5000 at most). That sounds good, but in car making every dollar counts. Let's say the end user price is$5000 for a 5kwh pack added to the price of the HEV. Now the $25,000 vehicle is a$30,000 vehicle and it only gives an extra 15-20 miles EV range at 35 mph.

Don't get me wrong, I think it has merit, but the marketing guy in me wonders how many will buy this at that price past the early adopter phase.

Now if you can show that the packs provide greater regenerative breaking and other benefits and that PHEV now gets 50 mpg instead of the 45 mpg, maybe it would put the deal over the top. We will get more overall benefits from this when lots of people use it.

SJC - I think it is almost like a law that prices come down once a technology is adopted more widely in the marketplace. There are many factors involved in the cost reduction, such as constantly improving production processes, better supply chain management arrangements, economies of scale (i.e. spreading the development and fixed cost over a bigger number of products), lowering cost of supplier parts, etc. While the pack may cost now 10K, it could come down a factor of ten, over the next decade. By the way, I understood that the Hymotion product is a turn key package, including installation, etc. So it not only a battery. The cost of labour and other parts should not be underestimated.

It is not clear what that f(x) is.

"...it could come down a factor of ten, over the next decade."

It could, but it is better to have supporting evidence to make the point. Economies of scale usually benefit from the marginal cost of making the next item. That is the fixed costs are large and variable costs are small. I do not see that in this model.

I would think there are considerable fixed cost. First of all the development cost of the technology, all the research and testing on the battery. Then the research cost for the plug-in technology, the cost of setting up a nation wide network with installers, training those people, etc, etc. When these cost can be recovered over a greater number of end products, the price will come down.

I picked a factor of ten, true this is somewhat arbitrary, but when you look at the price curves of other technologies, it may not be that far off. Examples? CD/DVD players, PC's, VCR's, Plasma/LCD, Turbo engines, Fuel injection systems, etc, etc, all have prices that are a mere fraction of what they were when it was first introduced. Closest to home, in the sense of relevant technology, rechargeable NiMH batteries. Not so long ago you would pay 8-9 dollars for one AA NiMH battery. Due to the explosive growth in digital cameras, now you get a 4 pack for that money with much higher capacity.

Point taken, but the variable costs are not quantified with lithium cells. When Nanosolar developed roll to roll thin film, it was a whole new way of doing things. That was a game changer. I do not see those here, but who knows, it might add only $1000 to the price of a PHEV for 5 khw 10 years from now. We will see. SJC: BYD (China) will soon have appropriate lithium battery packs for about$300/KWh. This means that a 5KWh pack will cost about $1500 or about the same price as the current 1.1/1.3 KWh NiMH pack used in the Prius II. If the price is the same but the weight is half as much for about 6 times the useable energy, I would say that it will be a win-win-win. In other words you could replace the current NiMH pack with a 10-KWh lithum pack for an extra$1500. This could make a Prius III PHEV-60 Km for about $25K. I wouldn't be surprised that's what Toyota has in mind for 2010/11. Joe: Your assumption is correct. We will see mass produced$200/KWh standardized plug-in lithium battery packs (from BYD? +++) within about 5 years. That's when BEVs with start to make sense. Meanwhile, improved Hybrids and PHEVs are good interim solutions. PHEVs will be around for a long while, for special applications.

The $300 figure might be cost not price. The price could be twice that, but I do not think that they will have a lot to sell the open market if they are using all of them for their own cars. Much better revenue on the whole package rather than just the batteries. Wholesale price for the cells could come down to that over time, but you have to package the cells with thermal management and all the other stuff. We will see how soon you can buy a PHEV complete 5 kwh pack for$1500 retail.

Car makes don't usually give stuff away at cost. So if the retail for 10 kwh packs it $3000, that is how much more the car costs, to go 30 miles at 30 mph. When you count in how long a pack lasts with deep cycles doing 30 miles EV mode each day, with grid power, charger losses, battery loses and such it is cheaper than gas but it all costs. It's not just about dollars and cents. I'm pretty sure the people in Scotland this week would be delighted to be able to get 20 miles without using diesel or gasoline. How much is it worth to still be able to drive when there are oil shortages? Pg 30 (Display 24) of this report has the cost curve for mass production of consumer Li-ion batteries: http://www.evworld.com/library/PHEV_AllianceBernstein.pdf When Nanosolar developed roll to roll thin film, it was a whole new way of doing things. Note that LiFePO4 cells from A123, BYD and others eliminate Cobalt, the most expensive component of li-ion cells. Most advanced lithium battery makers say they can get to$300-500/kWh in high volume production. Time will tell.

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