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Tesla Is Plunking Down $218 Million to Build Better Batteries

Illustration for article titled Tesla Is Plunking Down $218 Million to Build Better Batteries
Photo: AP
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

Tesla buys a whole other company, GM hires some people, Ford moves some people, and Lucid does some stuff. This is The Morning Shift for February 5th, 2019.

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1st Gear: It’s Called Maxwell and It Could Make Electric Cars Cheaper

Being able to drive an electric car over 200 miles at a time, and being able to fill it back up to 80 percent electricity in about 20 minutes, is good. But it’s not great. Electric cars won’t truly take over the world until both of those numbers go up and go down, respectively. And while battery research is progressing slowly, other technology avenues, such as ultra-capacitators, are proving promising. So Tesla’s plunked $218 million down to buy a company called Maxwell Technologies that makes them.

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From CNBC:

Maxwell makes ultracapacitors, devices that can store and rapidly deliver surges of energy. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a fan of the technology for electric cars. Musk has said in the past that the technology could be a more likely source of a breakthrough in electric vehicle technology than batteries. Musk even once said on Twitter that he had planned to conduct research on them at Stanford University.

Maxwell also has a process for making electric battery components that is significantly more efficient than those typically used in the industry. This process could significantly reduce the cost of producing electric vehicles, even when compared with the best battery manufacturing methods available today, Oppenheimer analyst Colin Rusch said in a note sent Monday.

That second paragraph, about electric battery components becoming cheaper, is key for Tesla. It still can’t sell a long-promised $35,000 Model 3, mostly because it can’t build a Model 3 for cheaper than that. Maxwell’s tech might just help with that.

2nd Gear: Lucid Might Partner With Other Companies Because Making Batteries Is Hard

Speaking of building a better battery, it turns out that making batteries is hard. And if you are a big car company and want to build your own electric cars, it helps to partner with another company that may know a thing or two about it. But there’s not too big of a list of companies with expertise on the matter – maybe Tesla, GM, Rimac, and now Volkswagen. And now Lucid wants to throw its hat into the ring as a smaller-company-that-helps-bigger companies, Bloomberg reports:

Rawlinson, who was chief engineer of the Model S when he worked for Tesla Inc., said on Bloomberg Television that Lucid has developed world-class technology that traditional automakers lack and could benefit from. He declined to identify the carmakers Lucid is having talks with and said the company won’t do an initial public offering until after the Air is in production.

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Quick—name a car maker! It might just be the one!

3rd Gear: Flat Rock Workers to Be Moved If They Want That

The sedanapocalypse continues, as more and more of you buy big SUVs instead because the good times will NEVER stop, and that means that there must be what we in the business call a little “asset re-allocation.” Also known as “workers at the car factory gotta be moved to the non-car factory because people aren’t buying enough cars.”

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In this case, it’s workers at Ford’s Flat Rock plant that manufactures the Lincoln Continental and Ford Mustang, and if they don’t want to be moved they’ll just be laid off, the Detroit News says:

Ford Motor Co. has filed notice with the state of Michigan to lay off 1,012 hourly and salaried workers at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant around April 1. But Ford said all full-time workers will be offered jobs at other plants, with about half being transferred to the Livonia Transmission Plant.

According to the notice filed Jan. 25, Ford is planning to lay off 560 hourly non-skilled workers, 460 hourly non-skilled temporary employees and 12 salaried employees at Flat Rock.

Kelli Felker, global manufacturing and labor communications manager at Ford, said 500 of the displaced workers are expected to be moved to Livonia Transmission, which builds transmissions for a number of vehicles, including the popular Ford F-150 and Ford Ranger.

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I guess that’s better than being laid off entirely?

4th Gear: GM to Hire Some Truck Builders, Too

GM has laid off thousands upon thousands of people as of late, but with the barest sliver of hope, it will hire 1,000 workers at the plant where it builds pickup trucks, Reuters reports:

General Motors Co said Tuesday it will add 1,000 workers to build new heavy-duty pickup trucks at its plant in Flint, Michigan, and will give priority to GM workers who were laid off elsewhere.

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At the rate GM’s going, though, you might want to regard these as temporary jobs.

5th Gear: Henry Ford, a Dead Old Racist, Was a Horrible Person, Never Forget That, Shout It From the Rooftops, Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise

While Henry Ford is long dead and was a big old racist and anti-Semite, apparently it is “controversial” in his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, to state such plain facts. So controversial, in fact, that if the editor of a small publication that is mostly distributed in a museum repeats it, along with an essay explaining why it should be repeated, and some stuff about how Ford’s descendants have done massive amounts of work with Jewish organizations and institutions because we should not be beholden to the sins of our fathers, that editor will be fired, the New York Times reports:

And so when the latest issue of [editor Bill] McGraw’s quarterly, The Dearborn Historian, arrived off the presses, it contained a special report on the extraordinary efforts by Mr. Ford to spread hate.


That’s when the mayor of Dearborn, John B. O’Reilly, decided to bar the city-financed journal from distribution. Mr. McGraw’s contract to edit the magazine was terminated.

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Mayor O’Reilly said in a statement obtained by the Times that he fired the editor of the quarterly “this edition of The Historian could become a distraction from our continuing messages of inclusion and respect,” which is really just an absurd excuse. We should always teach about the horrible mistakes of our past, as the old cliche about society being doomed to repeat its ills really is kinda true.

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But the good news is while very few may have paid much notice to a small Dearborn-based quarterly before, you can bet your ass everyone wants to read it now. Deadline Detroit has excerpts, and we should all have a read.

Reverse: Happy Birthday!

The fifth and youngest child of Jewish parents, André-Gustave Citroën was born in Paris on this day in 1878.

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Neutral: The Next Big Thing

It always seems like the next big battery breakthrough is always just around the corner. What life-changing battery tech do you think will make it to market first?

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.

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DISCUSSION

CrowdSceneExtra

1st: Not disparaging EVs in any way (drive a PHEV myself), but one thing that’s bothered me about these super-ultra-mega fast chargers is how they themselves are recharged. Buckle up people, it’s math time.

A fairly typical EV uses about 22 kWh per 100 miles, so a 200 mile EV would need a 44 kWh battery. An 80% charge to this battery would therefore mean about 35kWh of charging in 20 minutes.

A standard 240v/30A circuit provides 7.2kW. In order to store a charge of 35kWh, the circuit would need to be utilized at 100% for almost 5 hours.

If the chargers are provided with a small house sized electrical service line, we could expect a 240v/100A circuit providing 24kW. The circuit would need to be utilized at 100% for about 1.5 hours to provide enough energy to store this charge.

Even if we upgrade to a regular house electrical service line, we could see a 240v/200A circuit providing 48kW. We’d still need over 40 minutes to build the charge that’s consumed in 20 minutes.

Finally, if we upgrade to a large house electrical service, we could see a 240v/400A circuit providing 96kW. Here we’d only need about 22 minutes to build the charge that’s consumed in 20 minutes.

So how do these super-ultra-mega fast chargers deal with this? Remember that this is just for a single charging station. Is every super-ultra-mega fast charger wired up to a mansion-sized electrical service? Is there a downtime after a charge while the internal batteries and capacitors build back up to 35kWh? Regardless, I doubt we’ll see anything quite like a gas station for EVs given the enormous load 10 charger stations would create.