Unlike internal combustion engines, which have been refined over a number of years and continuously progress toward greater efficiency, a move to a fully electric vehicle requires considerably more research and development. In a bid to reduce this cost burden, the Volkswagen Group is working to group battery cell technologies across its models.
Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for technical development of Audi and head of cross-brand research and development, sat down with media including CarAdvice this week in Frankfurt to discuss the proposition of leading a research and development race to bring to market VW Group models such as the confirmed Audi all-electric SUV, an EV sports car called the Porsche Mission E concept and a volume car called the Volkswagen Golf GTE.
The Volkswagen Group has for some time had the facilities and capability to implement battery-powered drivetrains in MLB and MQB platforms, but there is a key question. How does one reduce the cost of redeveloping this technology for each application?
Hackenberg said that the group uses a mix of round, prismatic and pouch cells to achieve the capacity required to power its electric vehicles. And, by using these different cell types, the group is able to leverage supplier pricing and improve the cost outlay for components.
"We use different types of battery cells. We have the round cells, which are used by Tesla and we also use these in the R8. We also have prismatic cells, which we use in our e-tron cars and there are pouch technology cells. They are the three types we use," Hackenberg said.
"By using these different types, we are able to deal with the suppliers. If they are in competition, they are increasing in performance and quality and decreasing with their prices. You can only do that if you have this competition between them."
"To create competition, we need one standard, which makes it possible to choose this one or that one. In the R8 e-tron we have the cylindric type. In the quattro concept car [the all-electric SUV] we can use any type to obtain 95kWh battery capacity."
Interestingly, the Volkswagen Group has decided to adopt a different type of EV technology for its Porsche EV product, opting for 800V instead of the mainstream 400-500V currently used in the Tesla range.
"For batteries we have a collaboration for battery cells. A module is defined by the cells, so for one module for example we have 13, 12 cells that is a module. Then we take the module and we create a battery pack and that is dependent on the car and the type of the car and the architecture of the vehicle.
"We have a matrix of components and we are sharing those components. In this case, the role of Porsche is to look into 800V technology, while Audi is looking for 400-500V, because we want to be on the market in 2018 and the available technology including the charging is based on this voltage."
"This defines things like quick charging, where we expect to have around 400 fast charging stations on the German Autobahn. We have tried to make the timing work between the charging infrastructure and the timing of our car"
The problem with adopting bespoke technology is that it may not be compatible with existing infrastructure. For example, a Tesla fast charger that offers 400-500V may in the future be licensed to share with other manufacturers. A driver that moves in with the their Porsche may not be able to use this charger — Apple users know this pain well.
There is an interesting future ahead for the Volkswagen Group with a clear commitment from the group of manufacturers to venture down the path of fully electric vehicles.
VW chief Matin Winterkorn this week re-emphasised the group’s pledge to make 20 EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2020 — while in the presence of two new concepts, the Porsche Mission E and the Audi e-tron quattro — and the turn all its cars into veritable “smartphones on wheels” by the end of the decade.
Is there a particular model in the Volkswagen Group that you would like to see electrified?