Elec­tric cars ig­nite fears

Car mak­ers want the brakes put on bat­tery technology, write Craig Duff and Neil Dowl­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

SPARKS are fly­ing over the fu­ture of bat­tery technology in elec­tric ve­hi­cles as Mercedes-Benz pub­licly spars with in­ter­na­tional green en­ergy group Bet­ter Place.

Mercedes’ fu­ture mo­bil­ity boss Pro­fes­sor Her­bert Kohler has slammed the group, say­ing its plan to pro­vide bat­tery-swap­ping sites for elec­tric ve­hi­cles won’t work and is po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.

As Mercedes starts re­veal­ing its fu­ture elec­tric ve­hi­cle pro­gram, Kohler has squared up against Bet­ter Place, say­ing he has ‘‘no con­fi­dence’’ in its model, or its pro­jec­tion of one bil­lion elec­tric cars on the road by 2015.

Bet­ter Place aims to be­come a global provider of EV in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing charg­ing sta­tions and bat­tery-swap­ping sites.

The com­pany has set up a na­tional net­work op­er­a­tions cen­tre in Vic­to­ria to con­trol the soft­ware that will run the recharge net­work in Aus­tralia and has un­veiled its first charg­ing sta­tion in Can­berra.

But it is the bat­tery swap op­er­a­tions that con­cern Kohler and, he says, many other car mak­ers.

Bet­ter Place Aus­tralia CEO Evan Thorn­ley said ‘‘ru­mours of the death of bat­tery switch­ing from com­pet­ing com­mer­cial in­ter­ests like Mr Kohler may be greatly ex­ag­ger­ated’’.

‘‘In Tokyo last year, Bet­ter Place ran a taxi trial with bat­tery-switch­able ve­hi­cles that ran through all weather con­di­tions seam­lessly, switch­ing the bat­ter­ies 3470 times dur­ing the five-month trial,’’ he says.

‘‘There con­tin­ues to be a groundswell of sup­port for Bet­ter Place and bat­tery switch­ing technology as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor to the mass adop­tion of

No one is in­ter­ested in a one-size-fits-all bat­tery

elec­tric ve­hi­cles glob­ally,’’ Thorn­ley said.

Kohler says Bet­ter Place founder Shai Agassi’s po­si­tion has re­peat­edly changed and the group was now look­ing for a com­mon in­fra­struc­ture across com­pet­ing car brands.

‘‘It is very sel­dom car man­u­fac­tur­ers share the same opin­ion, but 95 per cent of us are in the same po­si­tion. No one is in­ter­ested in hav­ing ‘one size fits all’ on the bat­tery side,’’ Kohler says. ‘‘It is not fea­si­ble.’’

He says the cost of the bat­tery— up to 50 per cent of the cost of small cars — means car mak­ers will not want to share bat­ter­ies be­cause they don’t know how the re­place­ment prod­uct has been made, or how it has been treated.

‘‘What Agassi is go­ing to in­vest in now (re­place­ment bat­ter­ies) is go­ing to change.

‘‘A bat­tery that cost $1500 a kilo­watt hour in five to 10 years will be $750 a kWh. And that is not re­flected in their busi­ness case.

‘‘With those kinds of guys we don’t want to make busi­ness.’’

Thorn­ley says Kohler is in­cor­rect about Bet­ter Place’s cost as­sump­tions and any ex­pec­ta­tions around bat­tery stan­dard­i­s­a­tion.

‘‘We have built our busi­ness model around ac­com­mo­dat­ing a range of dif­fer­ent bat­ter­ies for dif­fer­ent-sized and con­fig­ured ve­hi­cles,’’ Thorn­ley says.

Kohler also struck out over the is­sue of safety in bat­tery swaps.

‘‘I don’t want to have some­one deal­ing with a bat­tery and to try do it as quickly as pos­si­ble and ‘oh, by the way he for­got the right con­nec­tors and the right po­si­tion’,’’ he says.

‘‘Who is re­spon­si­ble then when a mother and two chil­dren will get that elec­tric shock?

‘‘Who will be the re­spon­si­ble guy? Never, ever Bet­ter Place, it will al­ways be Mercedes, be­cause we are a big com­pany and they can get more money out of us and so on.’’

Thorn­ley says safety is a ‘‘prin­ci­pal con­cern for any rep­utable com­pany in the au­to­mo­tive or elec­tric­ity busi­ness’’.

‘‘Bet­ter Place is no ex­cep­tion and nor is global auto com­pany, Re­nault, or elec­tric­ity giants, Gen­eral Elec­tric, who have part­nered with us.’’

Fight­ing words: Evan Thorn­ley charges a bat­tery in an elec­tric car.

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