Things About BMW i3 and More

My wife is a fan of BMW and wants a Bimmer as her next car. I suggest her to get an electric one and she really likes the idea. i3 is out there already. The car got a unique look. However, to us, it looks like anything but a BMW. I am pretty sure this is exactly what BMW hopes for, since i3 represents a new BMW brand – the BMW i.

(i3. Credit: BMW)
(i3. Credit: BMW)
(i3. Credit: BMW)
(i3. Credit: BMW)

The current generation came out in 2013. The all-electric model can go 81 miles on a charge, powdered by a 22 kWh battery and a 168 hp electric motor. With the range extender, the total range can reach 150 miles. The range extender is a small 647 cc engine (also in some BMW motorcycles). But unlike regular cars, the “motorcycle” engine operates as a generator and power the electric motor. With a 1.9 gallon gas tank, the engine can work for 69 miles on top of the electro-range.

i3 is BMW’s first mass-produced electric car, but the company already started to test out its electric technologies on the road as early as 2009. The first round is between 2009 and 2011, on Mini E, which is based on standard Mini Cooper with a 35 kWh lithium ion battery. After the leasing ended, most of them went back to BMW for testing, exhibition etc. Some batteries were repurposed into a 200 kWh storage system for smart grid, at BMW’s office in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Please see our post Second-life Applications Could Help Reduce the Cost of EV Batteries)

The second round of field trial is on BMW ActiveE, a model based on 1 Series. It took place in 2012-2014, through a 2-year lease program. The car has a 32 kWh battery. Again, the cars were collected back by BMW after the program.

Back to i3, it is slightly larger than 1 Series, but not as big as 3 Series. The MSRP is $42,400 for the all-electric model and $46,250 for the range-extended model. i3 is quite popular in the US, ranked at 4th place among electric cars in terms of units sold in 2015. And the car may not be as expensive as it seems like. There was a post online saying in California, the lease could have been as low as surprising $130/month with no money down, thanks to various rebates and incentives. On the other hand, it should also be taken into the equation the possible increase in car insurance as well as charger installation cost though.

Another thing, the 2017 model which should be coming out later this year is reported to receive a boost in electro-range to 120 miles.

(i8. Credit: BMW)
(i8. Credit: BMW)

i8 is the other current member of BMW i. it is a plug-in hybrid supercar with a 0-60 mph of 4.4 seconds. The battery in it is 7.1 kWh. It sells for $140,700 in the US. An i8 Spyder convertible version may also be produced in the future. (Please see our post Summary on Electric Vehicles at CES 2016)

And more are supposed to come into the i family, soon. i5 reportedly is coming close to the decision on body style – between a bigger i3 crossover and a regular-sized sedan. The debut can be later this year and the delivery next year.  It might be a plug-in hybrid with a total power of high 640 hp and electrorange of 78 miles, an article said. Furthermore, an i6 might also be in the pipeline, targeting for 2020.

BMW is apparently not limiting its electrification to only BMW i brand, but extending it to the BMW brand as well. The company is working on adding plug-in hybrid versions to all of its core-brand models.

2016 X5 xDrive40e and 2016 328e should be around already. 2016 330e  and 2016 X1 xDrive30e should come out later in the year. 740e may follow in late 2016. 530e, 540e and M3 can come out in 2017/2018 timeframe.

These plug-in hybrids have 13-25 miles as the electrorange. BMW also plans to double that range as its next-generation plug-in hybrid powertrains roll out around 2020.

(X5 xDrive40e. Credit: BMW)
(X5 xDrive40e. Credit: BMW)

Second-life Applications Could Help Reduce the Cost of EV Batteries

High battery cost keeps the cost of electric vehicles (EV) high. As a result, carmakers still are relying on government incentives to sell EVs at somewhat more acceptable price. It was recently reported on Forbes that the cost of battery pack in the new 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt would be significantly reduced to under $300/kWh (The packs will be supplied by LG Chem). It is interesting to notice that some existing battery replacement plans/warranties have already put the $/kWh well below 300.

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra drives the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV onto the stage Monday, January 11, 2016 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. GM Executive Vice President Product Development Mark Reuss rides in the passenger seat. The Bolt EV offers more than 200 miles of range on a full charge at a price below $30,000 after Federal tax credits. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for Chevrolet)
(Photo: Barra Drives Chevrolet Bolt EV Into NAIAS Spotlight, on January 11 2016. © General Motors.)

More than 3 years ago, Tesla introduced a warranty option to replace the 85 kWh battery pack for $12,000; That equals to $141/kWh. In 2014, the Chevrolet Volt 16 kWh battery pack was seen sold at $2,994.64 or $187/kWh. In the same year, Nissan announced the battery replacement plan for LEAF. The cost is $5,499 including $1,000 for trading-in the old battery. The $6,499 total cost leads to $271/kWh. (More data on cell/pack price can be found at our homepage.)

The gap in battery cost can be partly filled by the batteries’ second-life applications.

EVs have stringent requirements on their batteries. To name a few – 1) EV batteries need to be weigh/space efficient to fit into a car, meaning high energy densities; 2) EV batteries need to be cycled in wide SOC windows (60-80%) to drive a long enough range on one charge; 3) EV batteries need to be able to deliver enough (like 70-80%) energy as battery ages, so drivers do not get angry with decreasing range; 4) EV batteries need to be able to deal with difficult load conditions like acceleration and fast charging.

That being said, end-of-life EV batteries are not dead batteries really. They can still serve well in less stringent conditions anywhere from huge MWh front-of-the-meter grid stationary storage to tiny portable power bank for your phone.

In any of these cases, high energy density is no long a must, batteries can be cycled in a narrow SOC window, batteries can retain less energy and the load conditions can be relatively mild and constant.

In November 2015, Daimler announced the plan to build a 13 MWh grid storage unit in Germany. It uses repurposed batteries from the electric car Daimler smart. The project was claimed to be the largest of its kind (with second-life batteries).

Nissan partners with Green Charge Networks to reuse its EV batteries for electrochemical energy storage (EES) applications. The behind-the-meter battery system can store electricity when the demand is low and produce electricity as the demand spikes. So users can save on demand charges. There was rumor that these old batteries would cost around $100/kWh.

Tesla reportedly has plans to give its EV batteries a second life as well. The residential energy storage product Powerwall sells for $3,000 per unit of 7 kWh. Can there be second-life batteries utilized?

For now, second-life applications can help reduce the price for battery replacement. How they can benefit EV buyers from the very beginning can be a quite interesting area to explore.

Moreover, battery reliability during the life span of an all-electric car or a plug-in hybrid lacks enough real-life data to support, since most of popular models came in after 2010. There were reports on cars like Nissan LEAF that the energy retention after a few years of driving was better than originally projected. Whether these cars need to replace the battery at all or not still would be an open question. And this would have an impact on how we see used electric cars.

It feels like electric car is but only a new technology, but also can change many things in our lives when they prevail.


Looking forward to the Samsung Lithium-ion Battery Enabling 600 km Range

One of the key tasks for electric carmakers is to extend the range of the car. For example, Nissan Leaf has seen increase in electro-range (the range on only battery pack) over the years – 73 miles for the 2012 model and 107 miles for the latest 2016 model. Also, BMW plans to upgrade the battery pack in its i3 to enable 120 miles, up from the current 81 miles.

To date, the longest electro-range should belong to Tesla Model S 90D – 270 miles (or 432 km). The luxury electric car has a 90 kWh battery pack, with high-energy silicon blended in the anode of the batteries. (Please see our article The Cells in Tesla’s 90 kWh Model S that “Partially Use Silicon” – What Can They Be?) Besides, companies such as Mercedes-Benz are making efforts to reach 500 km.

Samsung SDI made the news recently at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. It exhibited a “low height pack” prismatic battery that can support a range of 600 km form the current 500 km. The boost in the range is a result of 20-30% increase in battery energy. However, the specific energy of the new battery is unknown to our knowledge. Samsung SDI is targeting year 2020 to start the production.

Electric cars can drive 3-4 miles on a single kWh. With that being said, the state-of-the-art battery packs can still go 370 miles (600 km). They just need to be bigger (and heavier), to deliver enough energy. Some back-of-the-envelope numbers: 106 kWh for 370 miles (by using 3.5 miles/kWh). In fact, it needs to be more than 106 kWh since the miles/kWh will drop when you carry a heavier battery pack. On this, as another example, VW BUDD-e concept car can only run 233 miles on its 101 kWh battery pack (EPA drive cycle), probably because it is heavier as a minivan.

This calculation is just easy on paper. It is hard to accommodate such a big battery pack in a sedan. The whole floor of Tesla Model S is used for the battery pack already. Larger vehicles (like minivans) may work, but themselves are heavy. Then we go back to a lower range… So, in a word, we probably need to improve the energy densities of batteries (meaning lighter and smaller but with the same energy), to go 600 km.

So, this should be what the new Samsung battery is about – high energy densities.

The specific energy of Samsung 60 Ah prismatic batteries can be around 130 Wh/kg (which are being used in BMW i3 right now). The 2017 i3 may use the 94 Ah batteries to get to 120 miles. Then the specific energy of the 94 Ah batteries could be around 190 Wh/kg.

Samsung has a roadmap to go to 250 Wh/kg by 2019. This time stamp matches the production of the battery for 600 km. Moreover, 250 Wh/kg is about 30% more than 190 Wh/kg. There are also discussions on a possible 120 Ah battery. So can the battery for 600 km be 120 Ah with a specific energy of 250 Wh/kg?

As compared, Panasonic 25 Ah prismatic batteries in current VW e-Golf can have a specific energy of 170 Wh/kg. It is reported that 2017 e-Golf will use 37 Ah batteries with 30% increase in range, so the specific energy could be around 220 Wh/kg.

Last year, Hitachi demonstrated 335 Wh/kg with 30 Ah prototype batteries and the company plans to produce them starting in 2020.

Panasonic, LG Chem and Samsung Invest Big in Electric Vehicle Batteries

Panasonic’s President Kazuhiro Tsuga confirmed during the recent CES 2016, that the company plans to invest up to $1.6 billion in the Tesla Gigafactory. The two companies signed an agreement on Gigafactory collabration back in July 2014.

Until this point, the general impression had been that Panasonic was cautious about pouring big chunk of money into the project. In Oct 2014, Kazuhiro Tsuga said that the company’s initial investment would be tens of billions of Japanese yen (hundreds of millions of US dollars) and there would be further installments of similar amounts. The Gigafactory was also reported to be 40% bigger than the original plan.

Gigafactory apparently is not the only move for Panasonic. In June, it laid out an investment plan worth 60 billion Japanese yen (or $514 million based on current rate) for automotive section, in this fiscal year ending March 2016.

In December of 2015, Panasonic also announced that it will build a new battery plant in Dalian, China. The investment was said to be 50 billion Japanese yen (or $428 million based on current rate). The plant is expected to start production in 2017 and be dedicated to EV batteries.

In line with the company’s increasing interest in EV battery market, Panasonic closed a battery plant in Beijing, in August 2015. The plant was running for 15 years already. Originally part of Sanyo, it became Panasonic after Sanyo was acquired in 2010. The shutdown reportedly cost 1,300 people to lose their jobs. This factory in Beijing was mainly producing batteries for old-fashioned cell phones and cameras.

Other giant battery makers are taking actions as well.

For example, LG Chem plans to invest a total of $3.5 billion in a battery plant in Nanjing, China. The construction of Phase 1 is already completed in October, 2015. It cost $500 million. After production starts, the plant is expected to supply batteries to 50 thousand all-electric cars and 180 thousand plug-in hybrids.

The Phase 1 plant is as large as 80 thousand square meters (or 0.86 million square feet). Although not even close to the size of Gigafactory, LG Chem does plan to add more capacity, a total of 4 times of the current capacity by 2020.

Moreover, LG Chem is interested in not just providing cells. For GM’s soon-to-come Chevrolet Bolt electric car (Please see our previous post on Summary on Electric Vehicles at CES 2016), LG Chem reportedly will build the battery management system, the motor and the power electronics as well.

Samsung SDI is also growing. EV battery is becoming one of the new focuses for Samsung Group.  Samsung Group sold its petrochemical and defense units in 2014 and its chemical business in 2015. On the other hand, Samsung SDI acquired Magna International’s battery pack business in 2015. A new battery plant in Xi’an, China will also go into production this year. The capacity is enough for 40 thousand electric cars. Samsung SDI is expected to invest $600 million in total in this project by 2020.

Summary on Electric Vehicles at CES 2016

The International Consumer Electronics Show 2016 (CES 2016) took place in Las Vegas from 1/6 to 1/9. The presence of electric vehicles (EVs) have been growing over the past years (not counting the already numerous new in-car products that go into the EVs). This year, GM CEO Mary Barra and VW Passenger Cars CEO Herbert Diess went there and unveiled new EVs from the two companies respectively.

  1. Bolt from GM

It is GM’s first 200-mile all-electric car (the exact EPA range rating is not available yet). The car will be available towards the end of 2016 (model year 2017) and with a MSRP of $37,500 before any incentives.

Mary Barra did not disclose much on the specs during CES 2016, but now we know a few things from the Detroit Auto Show. The battery size is 60 kWh with a specific energy of about 138 Wh/kg. (Please find more data on specific energy on our homepage.) The electric motor can generate 150 kW (or 200 horsepower). The 0-60 mph acceleration probably takes less than 7 seconds.

As for the fast charging, Bolt can use 50 kW CCS charger for a boost of 90 miles worth in 30 minutes.

  1. BUDD-e concept from VW

It is a concept all-electric minivan with an EPA range of 233 miles. BUDD-e is modelled on the 1960s’ classic VW Bulli (also known as the Hippie Bus).

It has a 101 kWh battery. The cell format is yet to be decided; It can be 37 Ah, or the developing 60 Ah, or even something better.

Fast charging definitely will be an option, something like 30 mins to 80% SOC. It will use CCS charging protocol. High-voltage 800V charger is in discussion right now, which makes sense considering the big battery size.

  1. e-Golf Touch from VW

The special feature on this version of e-Golf is that there is a new generation of infotainment system equipped. The system includes a big screen and enables gesture control.

In terms of the performance improvement on 2017 e-Golf, there can a 30% increase in range from the current 83 miles EPA rating. VW will start to use cells with higher capacity than the previous ones (37 Ah vs. 25 Ah) but similar volume.

  1. FFZero1 concept from Faraday Future

The concept electric supercar was one of the hottest topics associated with CES 2016. It is designed to just fit the driver. The acceleration is pretty fast – <3 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. There is a helmet for the drive to get water and oxygen. It also features mirrorless architecture.

The car has “aero tunnels” to improve aerodynamics as well as to keep the batteries in operating temperature range. Other than this, very little is known on its battery system.

  1. Focus RS and Fusion from Ford

Focus RS is a much anticipated car, which is expected to feel like driving a GT but with a low price tag. It features a 2.3L EcoBoost engine with start-stop technology – so a microhybrid car.

Another Ford car on display was Fusion. 2017 models include a hybrid and another plug-in hybrid Energi. The electro-range of Energi is expected to remain at 19 miles.

  1. i8 Spyder concept from BMW

This is the convertible version of the plug-in hybrid i8. It features the i Future Interaction concept including the gesture control system AirTouch. BMW also presented the concept of Mirrorless technology on the standard i8.

  1. EHang 184 concept from EHang

It is not a conventional electric vehicle, because it is a human-flying quadcopter drone. However, it is also called “Autonomous Aerial Vehicle”, powered by battery. The drone can fit one person inside and fly 23 minutes with an average speed of 100 km/h (or 62 miles/h). The maximum power is 106 kW and the energy consumption for one trip is 14.4 kWh. (Please read our previous article Nice Concept EHang 184 Human-flying Electric Drone Calls for a Better Battery.)

Nice Concept EHang 184 Human-flying Electric Drone Calls for a Better Battery

One of the nice surprises during CES 2016 ought to be the claimed first ever concept drone that can autonomously fly a human being – the EHang 184.

It is essentially a quadcopter with a big enough cabin. According to the specs on the company’s website, there are two 1.5m propellers loaded on each shaft, 8 in total. The cabin is roughly 2 meters high and 1 meter wide, quite roomy for a person.

Inside the cabin, it’s got a good-looking seat and a 12-inch touchscreen stretching to the front. There are features like air conditioning, 4G network, a trunk for up to 16-inch luggage, a reading light and a downward camera. This thing can hover for 23 minutes and fly at an average speed of 100 km/h (or 62 miles/h). It translates into roughly 38 km or 24 miles in distance.

Now let us talk about different scenarios for the battery. Our starting point is the 14.4 kWh needed for a trip and the 106 kW maximum output, from the specs online.

One scenario would be to use a battery of just 14.4 kWh. Based on the specific energy  data of current lithium-ion battery packs in electric cars (available at our homepage), a 14.4 kWh battery pack most likely weigh more than 100 kg. For example, the newly released Chevrolet Bolt electric car from GM has a 60 kWh battery which is as heavy as 435 kg.

The net weight of EHang 184 is 200 kg. Can half of the weight come from the battery for drones?

Even if the answer is yes, there certainly is room for batteries to improve. United State Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC, formed by Fiat Chrysler, Ford and GM) set a goal of 235 Wh/kg for battery packs by the year of 2020. Then the 14.4 kWh would weigh around 60 kg.

Now say EHang can carry the 14.4 kWh battery around. Pulling 106 kW out of it can be another issue. The Chevy Bolt 60 kWh battery’s power is 150 kW –  a power-to-energy ratio of 2.5. In this scenario for EHang 184, the power-to-energy ratio is over 7.

Actually there is high-power batteries on the market, like the Microvast LpCo batteries. They can have a power-to-energy ratio of 4, but at the sacrifice of the specific energy, meaning the batteries are much heavier at the same energy.

As another scenario, say the drone needs 20% additional energy reservoir (it probably should), then the battery size is 17.3 kWh. It leaves 80 kg for other components of the drone. And still, the power-to-energy ratio is too high.

What if we keep the power-to-energy ratio and the power requirement at 4 and 106 kW respectively? Then we need a 26.5 kWh battery. The mass of this battery will be very close to 200kg already.

As we can see, EHang 184 put quite some pressure on the battery technology, namely higher specific energy so batteries can weigh less, and higher power-to-energy ratio so batteries can output more power. These (and many other parameters like cost, safety and temperature tolerance) are in line with the current demand on battery performance from the car industry.

EHang 184 looks like a nice technical concept with good market outlook. Maybe we should build such a battery to make it fly.

What Could Go Wrong for the Tesla Car Battery at the Supercharger

A Tesla Model S electric car caught fire during charging at a Supercharger in Norway, on January 1. The driver left for a store nearby while waiting, and a few minutes later, the car started to burn. Fortunately nobody got injured. Tesla said it is “undergoing a full investigation”.

It seems like every time this happened to Tesla, it could make the news (an unparalleled treat for a car company) – Let’s count: The collide with a “large metallic object” near Seattle, the crash in Mexico, the tow hitch hit in Tennessee, the wall adapter in Irvine, the unplugged fire in Toronto and this Supercharger one. Nevertheless, electric cars are still arguably safer than conventional cars in terms of e.g. number of fires per billion miles driven.

Tesla receives such a great deal of attention (and concern) partly due to the fact that its cars represent the fast growing trend to go electric. And the new thing about the electric cars is that they use batteries.

A lithium-ion battery has a few chemicals in it, among which there are 1) some fuel that can burn – the organic solvents and 2) some oxidizer (think about the air) that the fuel can burn with – the cathode material. Yes, you are right. We are trying to complete the fire triangle. So when there is too much heat, the battery can catch fire.

Please don’t panic yet. For one thing, lithium-ion batteries have been around for 25 years. You cannot live without them, literally. Your phone, your laptop, your iPad… And the Earth is still rotating just fine.

We just need to make them behave. And they usually do under normal use and conditions. Things can go wrong however under abuse conditions, such as physical deformation (crush and penetration), external short circuit, overdischarge, overcharge and external heat. Batteries can get shorted and/or generate a lot of heat. In extreme cases, temperature can start to climb up self-sustainably, so called thermal runaway.

One more thing: lithium dendrite growth from the anode to the cathode inside the battery stack. The battery makers are pursuing higher energy density, so the car can run longer and one can talk on the phone for more hours. (Please see the Battery Status Tracker on energy density on our homepage)

One design approach is to stuff as much electrode materials in a battery as it allows. As a result, the anode can start to have trouble digesting lithium ions from the cathode, especially during fast charging. Lithium can therefore be plated on the surface of the anode. Dendrite can grow, reach the cathode side and cause internal short circuit and heat generation.

The Tesla supercharger can charge the 85 kWh battery from 10% to 80% in 40 mins. It is not that fast, considering Nissan Leaf can charge to 80% in 30 mins and Microvast LpCo battery can be fully charged in 15 mins (Please see the Battery Status Tracker on fast charging on our homepage). However, we are talking about a 120 kW charger charging a big 85 kWh battery. The process itself can generate quite some heat from the resistive heating already. (BTW, Electric cars usually have battery cooling system on board). On top of that, if some cell(s) falls into the abuse category and too much heat is generated/sustained, there is enough fuel and oxidizer to complete the fire triangle.

So, as one can imagine, it is a crucial but difficult task to manage batteries in electric cars within normal use and conditions, because they are big (hundreds and thousands of times bigger than the batteries in a phone, in terms of the energy inside among other things) and they consists of tens to thousands of smaller cells which tend to have slightly different characters (but we really need them to be as identical and as under normal use as possible).

Electric cars are doing alright, for now. Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S both crossed 1 billion-mile mark in June 2015.

Another Big and Small Things from Apple

Remember the 17” and 12” Apple PowerBook ad featuring Yao Ming and Verne Troyer? The punchline was “the next big and small things from Apple”. More than a decade later, Apple is doing it again – this time with a (possible) electric vehicle (EV) and the Apple Watch.

Big thing first – the electric vehicle. Numerous sources have revealed the company’s target ship date of 2019 for the EV. The project has a nice code name Titan. We did not hear much about it until late 2014. Multiple companies have been associated with this affair – BMW, Tesla and Faraday Future, just to name a few.

The rumor is that the Apple would model its EV on BMW’s i3 electric car. The two parties have good working relationship – for example, BMW integrated iPod into its car audio system back in 2004. However, it was also reported that the new EV would look more like a minivan (makes me think of VW’s electric Budd.e. Anyone else?).

Regarding Tesla, Apple could make good use of Model S (& Co.) technologies for Titan. It has been heard that Apple would plan to buy Tesla, and people even put a $100 billion price tag for it.

As for Faraday Future, it is speculated that the EV startup would be a front for Apple’s project. Faraday Future just released its concept car FFZero1 at CES 2016. The high-profile company could be backed up by Yueting Jia, the founder and CEO of Chinese company LeTV.

Most recently, Steve Zadesky, Apple’s Vice President and the Project Titan’s person in charge, announced that he would leave the company after his 16 years tenure.

After all, nothing specific about the Apple Vehicle has been disclosed for now, but it is pretty exciting to see what kind of a “big” electric moving “thing” Apple can come up with.

The small thing – Apple Watch. Since the debut, almost 7 million of them were estimated to have been shipped. I personally like the smartwatch. It can remind me to stand up from time to time. I can set up a calendar, talk to friends and certainly watch the time, while keep my phone in the pocket.

I am curious about its battery of course. The batteries for wearable electronics are developing into a sizeable market, thanks to fast growth of the electronic products themselves. The 38mm Apple Watch is powered by a 205mAh Li-ion battery (LIB) and for the 42mm one, the battery is 246mAh. The battery of my smartwatch is pretty good for now; 75% of charge can still be there by the end of the day. The official charging time is 1.5 hours to 80% and 2.5 hours to 100%. Some data online suggested an energy density of 450 Wh/L. (Please see more energy density data at Battery Status Tracker on our homepage.)

Talking about batteries for wearable devices, Panasonic takes the approach of pin-shaped (like small cylindrical) LIBs as well. In Oct. 2014, it announced by then the industry’s smallest pin-shaped battery CG-320. The battery has a diameter of only 3.5mm and is 20mm tall. The specific energy was calculated at 81 Wh/kg and the energy density at 253 Wh/L. Panasonic is providing cylindrical 18650 LIBs to Telsa for its EVs.

Multiple sources in China reported that Apple Watch’s battery supplier can be Desay, but on its website there was no information available on smartwatch batteries. Desay should be one of the battery suppliers for iPhone.

Interestingly, Apple may be going to offer 2 limited editions for the Asian market to celebrate 2016 Chinese New Year, featuring a joyful red-colored band. Moreover, Apple Watch 2 should come out this year, probably after the WWDC in (maybe) June.

Uber and Guangzhou Automobile Form Strategic Partnership in China – Electric Cars a Focus

Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. (GAC) announced that it has become a strategic investor of Uber China in Dec. 21, 2015. The investment amount was undisclosed. This can be part of Uber China’s (ongoing maybe) Series B round fundraising, with a valuation of $6-7 billion. Moreover, Uber filed documents for a $2.1 billion Series G round fundraising on Dec. 3, 2015, which could lead to a value of $64.6 billion afterwards.

GAC is controlled by Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group, which is a Fortune Global 500 company (ranked at No. 362 in 2015, with revenues of $33.237 billion in 2014). GAC’s revenues in the first 3 quarters of 2015 are $2.92 billion (or 18.95 billion yuan), increased by 21.2% as compared with the same period of 2014. The company also has joint ventures with carmakers such as Honda, Toyota and Fiat in China.

Uber and GAC will collaborate on promoting electric cars, besides investment, sales and marketing. GAC currently produces an electric SUV Trumpchi GS4 EV and a range-extended electric sedan (a type of plug-in hybrid) Trumpchi GA5 REV. Trumpchi GS4 EV has an electro-range (a car’s range on electric) of 150 miles (or 240 km) while Trumpchi GA5 REV’s electro-range is 50 miles (or 80 km). The carmaker will start to sell another 2 models in 2016 as well – plug-in hybrid sedan Trumpchi GA3S PHEV and SUV GS4 PHEV.

This partnership is believed to benefit GAC in terms of fast growth in the market of new energy cars, both domestically and globally. In first half of 2015, GAC was ranked at No. 3 in China in terms of the number of plug-in hybrid electric cars produced but was outside of top 10 for electric cars. On the other hand, the partnership can help Uber building up an environmental-friendly image. As a company offering ridesharing services, it has direct relevance to greenhouse gas emissions and our ecosystems, in a positive way. According to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation accounts for 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of the fuel in this category consists of gasoline and diesel.

Uber, in March 2015, put a first fleet of 25 electric cars on the road of Chicago, in collaboration with Green Wheels and BYD. The electric cars are BYD e6, with a real-world range of about 140 miles.

A New Tesla Car Will Be First Released in Korea in 2016?

There are reports recently from Korea and China saying that Tesla is releasing a “Model E” in Jeju Island of Korea in 2016. The information online indicated that the price would be $35,655 before government incentives and the car could drive up to 320 km (equals to 198.8 miles) with a 48 kWh battery equipped.

The price and mileage disclosed resembles the expected specs for the upcoming Tesla Model 3, which will be shown to the public in March 2016 (probably during the Geneva Motor Show) and start production in 2017 according to the CEO Elon Musk. The battery of Model 3 is largely speculated at 50-60 kWh at this point to our best knowledge and may come from Tesla Gigafactory.

Tesla in 2014 considered naming its Gen III model as Model E and filed a trademark application. However, later the company abandoned the application. Ford filed a similar application to trademark Model E a few months after Tesla and sticks with the application later on. Tesla then named the new car Model 3 (maybe with three horizontal bars to represent).

So, can the “Model E” for Jeju be the “Model 3”? Regarding the trademark registration, US and Korea both are members of the Madrid Protocol treaty, which permits the holders of US applications and/or registrations to extend their rights to more than 80 country members. The trademark applicants do need to fill requests for this extension through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In this regard, a different company could still have trademarked Model E in Korea.

We will be waiting for official information from Tesla and maybe its Korean office – Tesla Korea Limited (which was registered on Nov. 13, 2015) After all, one report on the Jeju “Model E” mentioned also that the car would be released in the US and other countries in early 2016 as well, and the “Model E” photo in that report looked like Tesla Model X indeed. Or maybe the wording “release” in the report simply meant the start of taking orders. This would agree with the timeline Elon Musk has conveyed.  Regardless, it would be interesting to see how close the numbers – $35,655 for the price and 48 kWh for the battery energy – can be to those of Model 3 after the car comes out.

Korea can be an important market for Tesla. The CTO JB Straubel in November 2015 described that Tesla was “committed” to and saw a “great potential” in this market, during the Energy Korea Forum. A Model 3 crossover and a Model Y may also be in the pipeline.