What is the future of EV battery technology? That’s a question many automakers find themselves asking, and as Volkswagen finds itself vying for position of the world’s largest automaker, it’s an increasingly important question to answer. Bloomberg reports that Volkswagen will make a decision this July on whether or not to pursue solid-state batteries.
The lithium battery technology in question comes from U.S.-based QuantumScape, and VW executives were impressed enough to take a 5% stake in the company, with the option to buy more. Rather than rely on a liquid electrolyte solution like batteries used by GM and Tesla, QuantumScape’s solid-state batteries used a solid electrolyte material, which greatly reduces the chance of fire. Both the Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S were subject to federal investigations for fire, though that isn’t the only reason Volkswagen is considering solid-state batteries.
Last year Volkswagen executives said that the automaker sees “great potential” in the ability of solid-state batteries to deliver real-world driving ranges of 400 mile/700 km or more. VW already plans to have a 300 mile/500 km EV ready for production come 2017, but a 400 mile/700 km EV would offer literally five-times the driving range of the Volkswagen e-Golf (rated at 83 miles/130 km). You could pretty much write off range anxiety with that much travelling range, and there’s some serious science to back up these bold claims.
There are further implications for solid-state batteries across the industry though. Tesla in particular could find itself producing outdated batteries at the Gigafactory, an embarrassing position for an all-electric automaker. While I’m sure Tesla is monitoring all sorts of battery developments, Elon Musk’s well-laid plans could come crashing down if nobody wants to buy his brand of battery anymore. Other automakers like GM and Volkswagen still have conventional and hybrid vehicles to fall back on, but Elon is all-in with electric vehicles. Without the best battery in the business, Tesla would be hard-pressed to compete.
Are solid-state batteries ready for prime time though? That’s the decision Volkswagen will have to come to this summer. Even if they do go ahead with the technology though, it will probably be another five years before we see it in a production car.
Once that happens? Volkswagen may finally be able to realize its dreams of becoming the world’s largest automaker.