Newsflash: Lucid Motors komt met een SUV

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+++ U.S. and European startups are racing to develop new BATTERIES using 2 abundant, cheap materials (sodium and sulfur) that could reduce China’s battery dominance, ease looming supply bottlenecks and lead to mass-market electric vehicles. Today’s EVs run on lithium-ion batteries; mostly made with lithium, cobalt, manganese and high-grade nickel, the prices of which have soared. Western producers are struggling to catch up with their Asian rivals and carmakers expect supply bottlenecks to hit car production around the middle of the decade. The EVs of the future (those arriving after 2025) could shift to sodium-ion or lithium sulfur battery cells that could be up to two-thirds cheaper than today’s lithium-ion cells. But their promise hinges on potential breakthroughs in electrochemistry by such startups as Berlin-based Theion and U.K.-based Faradion, as well as Lyten in the United States. Newer battery chemistries have problems to be overcome. Sodium-ion batteries don’t yet store enough energy, while sulfur cells tend to corrode quickly and don’t last long. Still, more than a dozen startups have attracted millions of dollars in investment, as well as government grants, to develop new kinds of batteries. For now, China dominates battery production, including the mining and refining of raw materials. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a U.K.-based consultancy, estimates China currently has 75% of the world’s cobalt refining capacity and 59% of its lithium processing capacity. “We’re still dependent on a material supply chain from China”, said James Quinn, chief executive of British sodium-ion battery startup Faradion, which received more than $1 million in government grants from Innovate U.K. before it was bought by Indian conglomerate Reliance last year for $117 million. “If you look at the global geopolitical implications of that, it’s a challenge for energy security, economic security and national security”. Asian battery giants are also working on new chemistries. China’s CATL has said it plans to begin producing sodium-ion cells in 2023. Korea’s LG Energy Solution aims to start making lithium sulfur cells by 2025. The single most expensive element of an EV battery is the cathode, which accounts for up to a third of the cost of a battery cell. Most EV batteries today use one of two types of cathodes: Nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) or lithium iron phosphate (LFP). NCM cathodes are capable of storing more energy, but use costly materials (nickel and cobalt). LFP cathodes typically don’t hold as much energy, but they are safer and tend to be less expensive because they use materials that are more abundant. The cost of key cathode materials such as nickel and cobalt has skyrocketed over the past two years. That’s why so many companies are hoping to substitute cheaper, more abundant materials such as sodium and sulfur, if their technical limitations can be overcome. “Sodium-ion definitely has a place, especially for stationary storage and low-end vehicles in cost-sensitive markets such as China, India, Africa and South America”, said consultant Prabhakar Patil, a former LG Chem executive. “The introduction cost for lithium sulfur is likely to be higher (even though it has the potential to be the lowest cost) making consumer electronics the initial application”, Patil said. Michigan-based Amandarry and British startup AMTE Power are developing sodium-ion batteries using sodium chloride (basically table salt) as the main cathode ingredient. They do not need lithium, cobalt or nickel; the 3 most expensive battery ingredients. Jeff Pratt, managing director of the U.K. Battery Industrialisation Center (a state-funded £130 million ($153 million) factory that rents out its production lines to startups to test battery chemistries) said he is trying to fit a sodium-ion startup’s cells into a packed production schedule because it is “strategically important” to Britain’s hopes of being at the forefront of developing new, better batteries. U.S. firms Lyten and Conamix, Germany’s Theion and Norway’s Morrow are developing lithium sulfur cathodes that still need lithium in smaller quantities, but not nickel or cobalt. By using ubiquitous cathode materials (sulfur is widely used in fertilizer, so is cheap like salt) these startups claim battery costs could be slashed by up to two-thirds, potentially making EVs affordable beyond the middle class. Current EV battery packs typically range in cost from $10,000 to $12,000. “If we can hit the targets we’ve identified with some of the world’s largest automakers, then we’re off to the races”, Conamix CEO Charlotte Hamilton said. The battery startups say they are talking to major automakers, some of whom are actively testing new batteries that could be on the road in mass-market EVs before the end of the decade. The car companies are keen to keep their options open. “Over time, more battery chemistries will come out”, said Linda Zhang, chief engineer on Ford’s F150 Lightning electric pickup truck. “It would be silly not to take advantage of those chemistries”. At Tesla’s 2020 Battery Day, CEO Elon Musk said a “three-tiered approach” to lithium-ion batteries using different materials would be needed to build “truly affordable” EVs (mainly with iron-based LFP battery cells) as well as larger, more powerful and expensive EVs using nickel-based NCM or NCA cells with cobalt or aluminum cathode material. Battery developers hope they can add sodium-ion and lithium sulfur batteries to the range open to the auto industry. Duncan Williams, managing director of advisory Nomura Greentech, said recent discoveries are closing the gap on issues like energy density and cycle life, “so we would expect to see both of these alternatives taking market share in the future”. Michigan-based Amandarry is already producing sodium-ion cells at its plant in Haining, China, so those cells won’t qualify for incentives under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. The company says it will also build a plant in North America. Partner Amy Chen said Amandarry’s first transportation application will likely be electric 2-wheelers. Aside from a cost advantage, Chen says Amandarry’s batteries can charge really fast: 80% in 15 minutes. AMTE Power CEO Kevin Brundish said the company is initially launching with batteries for stationary energy storage systems, such as those used by grid operators, where energy density is less important. Faradion’s Quinn said the company’s batteries are also already competitive with LFP cells and it has formed a joint venture for energy storage with agribusiness giant ICM Australia. Quinn said at relatively low scale Faradion’s batteries should be a third less expensive than iron-based LFP batteries. He said Faradion has had discussions with “most every major automotive company”. “Within the next 3 to 5 years, you’ll see (our batteries) on the road”. Sulfur is a “wicked hard chemistry” to make work in batteries, said Celina Mikolajczak, chief battery technical officer at California-based startup Lyten, which has attracted $47.5 million from investors, according to investment website PitchBook. But, she said, it is “the chemistry of the future, the chemistry that makes batteries mass market”. Ulrich Ehmes, CEO of Theion (ancient Greek for sulfur) said the problem with sulfur is that it is so corrosive that it kills a battery after 30 charges. But he said the Berlin-based company, which is backed by a handful of angel and private investors, has developed a way to treat and coat a lithium sulfur electrode that should make it last an EV’s lifetime. Theion expects to begin supplying batteries later this year to power pumps in commercial rockets during launch. Ehmes said the company plans to begin sending test cells to vehicle manufacturers in 2024, with the first production EV applications expected around 2027. Theion believes its lithium sulfur cathodes could store 3 times more energy than standard NCM cells, charge ultrafast and cut battery cell costs by two-thirds, to about $34 per kilowatt-hour. “It’s cheap, it’s high energy density, so it seems to be a no-brainer”, Ehmes said. Tony Harper, director of the Faraday Battery Challenge, the British government’s program that invests in fostering new battery technologies, said the automotive industry is increasingly worried about supplies of lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, so new chemistries are vital. “This will take up the strain of what we thought would be a very, very difficult situation”, Harper said. +++

+++ BMW announced that it has opened a new Vehicle Accessories Center in Greer, South Carolina, that is associated with its biggest factory on earth. The new center is the result of a $25 million investment from the automaker. The 5.574 m2 facility will be operated by 60 employees and will enable BMW to factory install a variety of vehicle accessories on BMW vehicles produced at its nearby plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The center will service dealers nationwide with a full range of exterior and interior accessories, including wheels, body parts, decals, interior trim pieces, floor mats, roof accessories, and M Performance parts. “This new vehicle accessories center embodies our commitment to delivering the best premium customer experience in the industry”, said Sebastian Mackensen, president & CEO of BMW North America. “By factory installing accessories before delivery to the dealer, vehicles arrive already as ordered by customers. This will provide for a more efficient process and quicker delivery times for our customers”. Plant Spartanburg builds around 60 percent of BMWs sold in the U.S. and has made the company the biggest exporter of automobiles in the U.S. It builds SUVs, including the X3, the X5 and the X7, among others. Production of the XM, meanwhile, will start in December. BMW broke ground on the plant in 1992, and it remains the automaker’s only assembly facility in the United States. It is, however, its largest assembly plant on earth. In September, BMW announced that it had built its 6.000.000th vehicle ever at Spartanburg, a Java Green Metallic X6 M that is powered by a 608 hp 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. Plant Spartanburg has an annual production capacity of 450.000 vehicles, all of which are SUVs, and it is run by 11.000 employees. +++

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+++ A new study from Mitre and the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety has found advanced DRIVER ASSISTANCE SYSTEMSsignificantly reduce the chances of being involved in certain kinds of accidents. In particular, front-to-rear crashes were reduced 49% when the striking vehicle was equipped with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, compared to striking vehicles that weren’t equipped with either. The systems also helped to reduce front-to-rear crash injuries by 53%. It appears automatic emergency braking systems are doing the heavy lifting as forward collision warning systems, by themselves, only reduced front-to-rear crashes by 16% and cut the injury rate by 19%. That being said, forward collision warning systems were still found to provide a “substantial” increase in safety. Furthermore, the study found that automatic emergency braking systems perform “extremely well in all conditions, even when roadway, weather, and lighting conditions are not ideal”. The study also looked at the effectiveness of lane departure warning, lane keep assistance, and lane centering systems. The combination of lane departure warning and lane keep assistance helped to reduce single-vehicle road-departure crashes by 8%, while also reducing single-vehicle road-departure crash injuries by 7%. When lane centering was thrown into the mix, there wasn’t much of a difference as single-vehicle road-departure crashes were only reduced by 9%. The study went on to say there were no “other significant results when analyzing injury or serious crashes with these features together, nor did it find [a] significant reduction for LDW alone”. The study used “police-reported crash data and vehicle equipment data contributed by ’the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety’ partners”. It examined 93 vehicle models from the 2015-2020 model years that crashed in 13 states over a nearly 6 year period. Commenting on the results, the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety’s  Governance Board industry co-chair Tim Czapp said, “These emerging technologies can substantially reduce the number of crashes and improve safety outcomes”. He added, automatic emergency braking systems are “approaching standard deployment and with real-world effectiveness, it is helping mitigate injuries and lives lost”. +++

+++ While electric vehicles are now a fundamental part of our future, the all-important question of profitability has often been asked by critics and probed by industry analysts alike. It’s no secret that, generally speaking, eking out profit margins is a harder ask with a battery electric vehicle than with one powered by internal combustion. But GENERAL MOTORS ‘ boss Mary Bara is apparently unfazed, as she plans to tell investors that the company’s EV program is expected to turn a profit from 2025. General Motors has shown a certain bullishness with its electric vehicle strategy, with the company previously predicting that it would overtake Tesla as the top EV manufacturer by 2025. That alone is a Herculean task, considering that GM didn’t manage to crack 10 percent of Tesla’s EV numbers last year, with just 25.000 sales compared to Tesla’s 350.000. This year’s EV sales are not much better, at around 44.000 units. To add insult to injury, each of these has been at a loss. The transition to EVs for legacy automakers is by no means inexpensive, with investments in technology, production, and raw materials meaning that ICE models will continue to fund the development of EVs for now. However, in favor of GM is scale and affordability, with a host of new models planned for the following years. Things will kick off in earnest with the launch of the Silverado EV pickup, the Blazer EV SUV and Equinox EV crossover; the latter coming in at around $35,000. GM is also leveraging its extensive network of plants and existing suppliers to increase production and lower costs when it comes to EVs. While profit per unit may end up being less than Tesla, Bank of America analyst John Murphy forecasts GM could pass Tesla in EV sales in 2025 simply because GM will offer more models and have more production by then. This could also be impacted by the fact that the long-mooted, more affordable Tesla Model 2 is nowhere to be seen either. Battery costs have been slashed too. GM’s product development chief Doug Parks is expected to elaborate on how the General’s new battery tech will help keep money in investors’ pockets. GM’s Ultium battery tech is said to be 60 percent cheaper to build than what was fitted to the Chevrolet Bolt (Opel Ampera-e), while a second-generation battery will reduce costs by a further 40 percent. Other potential avenues for increasing profitability lie in GM’s ongoing software development, which includes the semi-autonomous Super Cruise hands-free driver-assist program and Ultra Cruise, which allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel over more miles and in more driving conditions. While there’s still a long way to go, GM’s aggressive strategy, driven by sales volume and cutting costs, may pay off. +++

+++ The LUCID AIR has managed to truly impress as a premium EV that combines luxury appointments and blistering performance in an elegant package. The company promises to carry over that aesthetic to its next offering, an SUV called the Lucid Gravity. Lucid’s latest teaser provides a glimpse of how that translation might look. Like the Air, the Gravity will be about maximizing efficiency, Lucid says. That manifests itself in areas like the company’s compact electric motors, which allow for better packaging and more interior space. Engineers and designers have also prioritized aerodynamics; the Air sedan boasts a very slippery 0.197 drag coefficient. Lucid isn’t revealing numbers for the Gravity yet, but lead designer Derek Jenkins promises that it’ll be “by far the most aerodynamic SUV, ever”. Head on, the Gravity offers a taller version of the Air’s face. With an illuminated horizontal bar that stretches headlight to headlight and vertical DRLs, it remains on-brand alongside its sedan sibling’s distinctive light signature. Out back, a taillight bar mirrors that of the Air as well, and we can see a commonality with its C-pillar shape. A massive roof spoiler overhangs the rear window, giving the Gravity very boxy proportions. An extremely short front overhang gives the vehicle a long cabin area. It almost looks minivan-esque, but a cool one like the Kia Carnival. A massive roof wing overhangs the rear window, and the cut lines for the hatch look like they’ll make for an interesting rear aperture. The Gravity will offer 3 seating configurations: 2 rows, a 6-seater option with captain’s chairs in the second row, and a 7-seater layout with a 3-person bench in the second row. “Cargo space is going to be off the charts,” Jenkins told us. “We’re taking packaging to a new level”. A panoramic glass roof looks to be one of the largest in the biz. No performance specifics were given, but the folks at Lucid say that, like the Air, the Gravity will have a very long range. It’ll be quick, too. “I dare to call it a hypercar, except it’s not a car”, Jenkins said. Lucid has stated that the 1.200 hp Air Sapphire, which costs $249.000 and goes from 0-100 kph in under 1.9 seconds, will not be the only model to wear the Sapphire moniker. So it’s implied that there’ll be a Gravity Sapphire at some point, especially since Lucid reps say the Air and Gravity together will complete the company’s flagship lineup. Specifics will likely be revealed next year. Reservations are scheduled to open in early 2023, while the Gravity itself is planned for a 2024 arrival. +++

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+++ For years now, Consumer Reports has been one of the most prolific sources of vehicle reliability data around. The organization tests a number of vehicles each year and surveys its members on various automotive topics, including RELIABILITY . The results of its 2022 annual auto survey are in, and the list of most reliable vehicles has been revealed. Unsurprisingly, Toyota and Lexus dominated the list of most reliable vehicles, but BMW and Mini snuck into the top 10 as well. The list includes: Toyota Corolla Hybrid: 93. Lexus GX: 91, Mini Cooper: 89, Toyota Prius: 89, Mazda MX-5: 85, Lincoln Corsair: 82, Toyota Corolla: 81, Subaru Crosstrek (XV): 80, BMW 3 Series: 80, Toyota Prius Prime: 77. In terms of the most reliable vehicle type, Consumer Reports says that sedans remain the best choice. Their average score is 58, which is notably better than SUVs’ average score of 51. Minivans and pickup trucks are lower, at 44 and 39, respectively. As Consumer Reports notes, many sedans are older models that have allowed their manufacturers to iron out the wrinkles, making them more reliable. Domestic automakers’ SUVs and trucks performed better in the survey than their imported counterparts, with scores of 45 and 41, respectively. The study also showed that hybrids and plug-in hybrids are becoming more reliable, and have climbed the score ladder to the tops of their segments in many cases. Consumer Reports says its study includes 17 trouble areas, including small stuff like creaks and rattles and much larger problems like drivetrain failures. The organization states that it weights each issue based on its severity to create its predicted reliability scores, with 100 being the best. A car must be in production for at least two model years to be considered for the list. On the other side of the coin, the list of least reliable vehicles sometimes contains surprises. The organization surveys its members to determine the vehicles that exhibited the most problems over the prior year. Owners are asked about creaks and rattles, the durability of parts and trim, and mechanical issues. Consumer Reports assigns a weight to each problem and then uses them to create a score, with 100 being the best. Some familiar names appear on the list of least reliable vehicles (in order with the lowest predicted reliability score at the top), but there are a few eyebrow-raising models, followed by CR’s score: Ford F-150 Hybrid: 4, Hyundai Kona Electric: 5, Lincoln Aviator: 8, Nissan Sentra: 9, Ford Explorer: 16, Chevrolet Bolt: 17, Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500: 19, Jeep Gladiator: 21, Mercedes-Benz GLE: 23 and Jeep Wrangler: 24. The survey showed that trucks from American brands tended to have better reliability scores, so it’s surprising to see GM’s big 2 and the Ford F-150 on the list. Part of their problematic ownership experience could be due to the fact that all 3 trucks have received recent updates, and the Ford was completely redesigned for 2022. New tech, fresh drivetrain components, and other improvements can upset the balance of reliability and make newer models look less dependable than their older counterparts. +++

+++ The RIMAC Nevera has become the world’s fastest electric production car, achieving a record-breaking top speed figure to match its eye-watering quarter-mile run from 2021. The Croatian hypercar, which was driven by Rimac’s chief test and development driver, Miro Zrnčević, hit a top speed of 412 kph. Set into its highest-speed mode, which improves the balance between drag and downforce, the Nevera achieved the record at the Automotive Testing Papenburg track in Germany, making use of two 4 km straights. It’s the first time the Nevera has reached its 412 kph top speed, which was a target set by the Rimac team back when the car was initially revealed as the C_Two concept at the 2018 Geneva motor show. Already deemed the world’s fastest-accelerating production car over a quarter mile (8.582sec), the Nevera is powered by four electric motors producing a staggering 1.900 hp. Rimac says it hits 0-100 kph in 1.95 seconds and 0-100kph in 4.3 seconds. A Nevera delivered to a customer comes with a top speed limited to 395 kph but can be adjusted to theoretically hit the 412 kph figure in controlled conditions at special, Rimac-supported events. “To travel at 412 kph means travelling at a third of the speed of sound”, said Zrnčević. “Simply achieving that alone in a road car is incredibly complex, but in the Nevera we’ve created a car that can travel long distances on a single charge, can tackle tight and twisting race tracks and can drift as well as break straight-line speed records, both for acceleration and V-max. “I’ve driven the Nevera since it first turned a wheel, and to see the perfectly honed car that is today is a really emotional moment. The most important thing I’ve learned during the top-speed attempt is how composed and stable the car was, confirming that our aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics teams have done an amazing job”. While the Nevera is the world’s fastest electric production car, it’s still some distance away from the internal-combustion front-runner. The 1350 hp Koenigsegg Agera RS is officially the world’s fastest production car, with a top speed of 445 kph clocked back in 2017. It exceeded the 430 kph figure set by the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport in 2010. However, there are some hypercars which have achieved even higher top speeds. In 2019, the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ reached 488 kph, but this wasn’t officially considered, as its run was only recorded one-way. And in 2020, the SSC Tuatara clocked 443 kph, but it wasn’t deemed the fastest as it wasn’t homologated for road use. +++

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