As original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) race to
develop plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), there also is
a pursuit for new battery technologies that will carry the
vehicles further, and faster on a single charge.
Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich., is currently
testing 20 plug-in versions of its Escape sport utility vehicle
(SUV) with Rosemead, Calif.-based electric utility Southern
California Edison. The Escape plug-in uses lithium-ion
batteries from Johnson Controls-Saft, a joint venture between
Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, and Paris-based Saft Groupe
SA, the world's leading manufacturer of nickel-cadmium
batteries for industrial applications and lithium batteries for
The test is expected to last three years.
"Based on typical American driving, a fleet of
vehicles such as our Escape plug-in hybrid has the potential of
displacing 60 percent of fuel consumption nationally," Mark
Fields, Ford's executive vice president, said at a PHEV
conference in Washington.
But battery manufacturers are a long way from
providing batteries that meet OEM safety and durability
standards at a cost and volume required to support substantial
production of PHEVs for the mass market, he said.
"It's also important to note that most battery
supply is currently being developed in Asia. For those looking
to plug-ins to answer our energy security concerns, we must
ensure a domestic battery supply. Moving from imported oil to
imported batteries clearly would not address this growing
concern," Fields said.
Although Ford is at least five years away from
large-scale manufacturing of PHEVs, Detroit-based General
Motors Corp. plans to introduce its heavily hyped Chevrolet
Volt PHEV in 2010 and expects to sell 10,000 vehicles in its
first year, while Dieter Zetsche, chief executive officer of
Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG, said he expects his
company to have an electric Mercedes and Smart Car on the
market by 2010.
GM has teamed with the Electric Power Research
Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., which represents utilities that
generate more than 90 percent of the power in the United
States, and with two battery makers-Compact Power Inc., Troy,
Mich., which is working with parent LG Chem Ltd., Seoul, South
Korea; and a team of Continental Automotive Systems, Frankfurt,
Germany, and A123 Systems Inc., Watertown, Mass.-that are
competing to supply the Volt's lithium-ion batteries.
Renault SA-Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is already
developing the first line of battery-powered electric cars for
electric car grid operator Project Better Place LLC, Palo Alto,
for 2011, and other automakers are expected to follow.
Phoenix Motorcars Inc., a Rancho Cucamonga,
Calif.-based PHEV start-up, plans to begin selling a small
electric pickup truck by year-end with batteries based in part
on technology from Altair Nanotechnologies Inc., Reno, Nev.
A Canadian public company has already sold more
than 350 PHEVs, a third of them in California, since its 2006
start-up. The vehicles sell for around $15,995 and get the
equivalent of 254 miles per gallon, or less than 2 cents a
Zenn Motor Co. Ltd.'s two-seater PHEV (see page 30)
has a top speed of only 25 miles an hour using standard
lead-acid batteries, but the Toronto company is developing a
bigger and faster vehicle called the CityZenn for 2010 that
should reach speeds of close to 80 miles an hour and go 250
miles between power charges with new technology being developed
by Eestor Inc.., Cedar Park, Texas.
"The competition will heat up once the big car
manufacturers come out with their new products, but we have an
exclusive agreement with Eestor," said Ian Clifford, founder
and chief executive officer of Zenn, which stands for zero
emission no noise. "Our ultimate objective is to become a drive
system supplier to the majors and not to become another GM or
Ford." BRIAN DUNN