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The Mobilist
The future of batteries, electric cars, and driverless vehicles. A new blog from Medium.

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Blood feud, gigafactory chronology, useless batteries and new podcast

Photo: MJ Kim/Getty

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

The South Korean battery blood feud: This week, I wrote about the coming deadline Saturday for President Biden to decide whether to side with LG Chem and stop SK Innovation from supplying lithium-ion batteries from a new plant in Georgia. The batteries would be for Ford’s coming electric F-150 pickup and VW’s SUV crossover ID.4. The International Trade Commission ruled that SKI stole trade secrets from LG in order to invent its battery, a position that SKI vehemently denies…

They are ignoring the most likely winner, suggests a top expert — China Inc.

Xpeng P7 at the Beijing Auto Show last September. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty

For two weeks, Volkswagen has held auto industry analysts and reporters in unusual thrall: This 84-year-old German automaker, these opinion-makers have said, has managed a miraculous pivot from a legacy industrialist to a front-runner in the race to be the world’s number one producer of electric vehicles. Weighing in, Wall Street sent up VW shares by 20% in the last half of March, while cutting 13% from the stock price of Tesla, the current industry leader.

“The end of Tesla’s dominance may be closer than it appears,” reported Bloomberg. …

Automakers and governments see a strategic and geopolitical necessity

Super-chargers in Topeka, Kansas. Photo: Mark Reinstein/Corbis/Getty

According to one prevailing view of the future, the combustion-rooted landscape to which we have become accustomed over the last century — gasoline stations always at hand if we need them, grouped in threes and fours on some urban corners — will go the way of the buggy whip. Instead, when people are in electric vehicles and running low on juice, this outlook predicts, they won’t scan the horizon for a service station, but will already have charged up at home or work. …

A multifront race in batteries, plants, and to be #2 behind Tesla

Tesla Battery Day, Sept. 22, 2020, Musk, right, with battery head Drew Baglino. Photo: Tesla

In six months, the world of automobiles has raced decades ahead: From a mere aspiration, the mass-market electric vehicle is at once a very real object planned for deployment in three or four years by nearly every automaker on the planet. Batteries thought to be fanciful are ready to be scaled up and put into those vehicles. And logistics experts who typically spend years crafting intricate supply lines for global trade are scrambling to organize everything from mines, to parts-makers, factories, and fast-charging stations — all in the next few years.

As bookends, this whirlwind period began and ended with…

Super-duper fast-charging, battery days, apartment dwelling

Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty/One New Change

Faster than superfast: Fast-charging is the biggest thing in batteries and electric vehicles at the moment. The subject was central to Volkswagen’s Power Day on Monday, and, along with cost parity with combustion, is the singular must-have if ordinary motorists are to seriously consider buying an EV. So it is that, in a new paper in Nature Energy, a group of 10 researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, and Brown disclose a “faster than superfast” battery, as CMU’s Venkat Viswanathan, one of the authors, puts it.

The proof of concept, led by MIT’s Yet-Ming Chiang, combines a lithium metal…

With big cash infusions, Faraday Future and DeepGreen can finally get first production going

A deep sea worker holding a “nodule” containing nickel, manganese, and copper. Photo courtesy of DeepGreen

Over the next couple of weeks, Faraday Future, a California startup building a $180,000 electric crossover SUV, is to go public in a $3.4 billion reverse merger. Faraday’s exceedingly stylish flagship FF 91, scheduled for delivery next year, is chock-full of smart design and digital touches. Yet, amid a coming scrum of other elegant electrics, in addition to market-leading Tesla — not to mention little-spoken questions surrounding when or if the mass market will in fact embrace EVs — no one can say that Faraday will be left standing once the IPO mania passes.

DeepGreen Metals, a Canadian startup preparing…

Affordable EVs, Tesla’s Jeff Dahn, the EV market, and future jobs

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty

The meaning of parity: Last Friday, I wrote about the expected coming of cost parity, when electric and gasoline-propelled vehicles will cost roughly the same to manufacture. As I have reported numerous times, the signal for parity will be when lithium-ion batteries drop below $100 per kilowatt-hour, expected in 2023 or 2024. At that point, when there is no price difference between the technologies, we will know whether large numbers of ordinary motorists want to own EVs, or whether they will remain a niche, green product.

But, from his home in Berlin, Mobilist reader Frank Wunderlich-Pfeiffer tweets that technical parity

Humanoid robots everywhere, people wearing VR devices, and an EV boom

In a Model T, a country jaunt in the 1920s. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch/Corbis/Getty.

Batteries are very near a tipping point sought by entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and investors for a century and longer — a cut in average cost so low that electric vehicles can be profitably priced the same as their gasoline-propelled cousins. The coming price plunge for batteries is behind forecasts that, starting in the second half of the decade, EV sales will leap ahead of today’s levels and eventually surpass internal combustion.

The inflection point is a cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour, the metric for battery capacity. Some Chinese electric public buses are already powered by such batteries, and BloombergNEF forecasts that…

Ford’s announcement signals a late U.S. bid to compete head-to-head with Europe and China

Ford’s new electric Mustang Mach-E SUV crossover. Photo courtesy of Ford

For Ford, the fear of a Kodak moment came January 28, when Mary Barra, CEO of rival General Motors, announced that as of 2035, her company aimed to be making only electric vehicles (EVs) for the consumer market. GM would continue to manufacture a heavy pickup or two with gasoline engines. But for GM, Barra said, the age of combustion was effectively over.

Exactly a week later, Ford CEO Jim Farley — who took the helm of the decidedly EV-skeptical company in October — announced he will double spending to develop EVs and autonomous vehicles. …

But most battery researchers don’t believe it

QuantumScape’s breakthrough separator. Photo courtesy of QuantumScape

On its first day of trading in November, shares of QuantumScape, a lithium-metal battery startup, surged by 57% in price. Then 10 days later, the price doubled, and less than two weeks after that, it was up another 72% — a total 5.7-fold increase in less than a month. The price has since plunged back to earth — sort of. As of the close of trading yesterday, it was up a mere 80% since its debut two months ago.

But the stock’s dramatic rise has its logic if you understand that QuantumScape is at the center of a whirlwind in…

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