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March 19, 2018 News of the Day: Sila Nano Announces Partnership With BMW for the Next Generation of Lithium-Ion Batteries, Mercedes Benz Working on Car Subscription Program for the U.S.

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【Summary】March 19, 2018 News of the Day: Mercedes Benz working on car subscription program for the U.S., Mazda developing lithium-ion car batteries, Pirelli announces intelligent tires and more.

Eric Walz    Mar 19, 2018 5:04 PM PT
March 19, 2018 News of the Day: Sila Nano Announces Partnership With BMW for the Next Generation of Lithium-Ion Batteries, Mercedes Benz Working on Car Subscription Program for the U.S.

Sila Nano Announces Partnership With BMW for the Next Generation of Lithium-Ion Batteries

ALAMEDA, Calif., — Sila Nanotechnologies ("Sila Nano"), developer and manufacturer of advanced battery materials has announced a partnership with the BMW Group on next-generation lithium-ion batteries.

Founded in 2011 by Silicon Valley battery engineers and a Georgia Tech Professor of Materials Science, Sila Nano is headquartered in Alameda, California.

The company has developed silicon-based nanoparticles that can form a high-capacity anode material for lithium-ion batteries. Silicon has almost 10 times the theoretical capacity of the material most often used in these batteries, but it tends to swell during charging, causing damage. Sila's particles are robust yet porous enough to accommodate that swelling, promising longer-lasting batteries.

The BMW Group has long been committed to raising the world's expectations of electrified transport through innovation. This is reflected in a growing lineup of advanced electrified models as well as in the company's respected in-house research and development. BMW is meeting tomorrow's consumer demand for long range electric vehicles by adopting new enabling technologies today.

In order for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries to hit future automotive targets, further advances and developments are necessary. The conventional chemistry (graphite anodes, lithium metal oxide cathodes) which has been thoroughly optimized, is reaching a technological limit.

Achieving dramatic performance improvements while ensuring high levels of safety requires moving to a new generation of materials chemistry, one that increases storage efficiency while still working cost-effectively with conventional cell manufacturing processes.

Sila Nano's team is focused on developing and commercializing the next generation of battery materials. Their first products are a family of silicon-dominant anode materials that replace conventional graphite electrodes. These materials work today and enable high cycle life, ultra-low swelling, and high energy density in next generation battery cells. Sila Nano's materials drop into the existing battery manufacturing process, and can be manufactured economically at scale.

To accelerate development, the BMW Group has been working throughout its long-term partnership with Sila Nano to develop Sila Nano's silicon anode material for the automotive market. In this effort, the companies are working together to apply Sila Nano's breakthrough technology to achieve the performance and industrialization required for high-performance electric cars.

"At Sila we deliver the next generation of battery materials, which enable improved energy storage, require no change to battery manufacturing, and scale economically with mass production," Gene Berdichevsky, CEO of Sila Nano said. "These innovations will introduce a new performance standard for electric vehicles in the early 2020s."

Sila Nano is growing rapidly and expanding its teams at the San Francisco Bay Area HQ, at additional manufacturing locations, and in Europe and Asia, to support a wide range of customers and partners in the automotive and consumer markets.

BMW plans to incorporate Sila's silicon anode technology in a plug-in electric vehicle by 2023.

Mercedes Benz to Launch a Vehicle Subscription Program for the U.S.

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Luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz is preparing to launch a U.S. pilot program for vehicle subscription service. Subscription customers can select and drive up to 12 new vehicles

for a year at a fixed monthly rental rate.

The rate, which Mercedes has not disclosed, includes insurance, maintenance, repair, tires and up to 36,000 kilometers (22,369 miles) a year. Customers can switch vehicles online through the Mercedes me Flexperience app.

"We plan to have something ready within this year," said Britta Seeger, global head of sales for Mercedes-Benz, at the Geneva Motor Show. "We are in the final conclusion" stage.

In Europe, Mercedes said this month it is teaming with Daimler Financial Services to launch the service — called Mercedes me Flexperience — as a pilot program at Germany's two largest Mercedes dealership groups.

"With Mercedes me Flexperience we have a new, fully digitalized mobility offering. Our customers can flexibly use up to twelve vehicles per year according to their requirements – a 'car on demand' offer, so to speak. A Cabriolet on the weekend, an SUV for family holidays and a saloon for business trips, the vehicle changeover can be organized at any time of day using the app", says Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz Cars Sales.

"This makes it easy for everyone to choose the appropriate Mercedes for every occasion. With Mercedes me Flexperience we are taking another step toward a complete package for individual mobility."

As for the U.S., Seeger said, "We are currently in investigation in which area to try it out."

The benefits of digitalization go well beyond just handling the rental process with Mercedes me Flexperience. In contrast to traditional vehicle rentals, the customer can select the engine configuration, color, or interior appointments using the Mercedes smartphone app.

Upgrading to a higher vehicle class is also possible at any time. In addition, the app gives a complete overview of rental history and costs as well as vehicle data such as the fuel level and mileage thanks to connectivity.

"With our mobility and financial services expertise, we are in a position to provide our customers with maximum flexibility in the vehicle use, from digital vehicle selection and booking to vehicle change", says Klaus Entenmann, CEO of Daimler Financial Services AG.

"With Mercedes me Flexperience we are once again providing proof that implementing new innovative products and business models within the shortest time possible is a priority for us. The combination of the strengths of our core business and the start-up spirit of Lab1886 is particularly important for us", says Susanne Hahn, Head of Lab 1886.

In Germany, subscribers can choose 12 vehicles per year from one of four segments: A-, C-, E- and S-class models and their crossover and sporty versions. Subscriptions will be offered for each of the four vehicle classes. "If you want upgrade, you have to pay," Seeger said. "For example, if you have your wedding day and you are subscribed in a C class and you want an S-class cabriolet — you can, but you have to pay."

Some industry observers view this as a problem for the subscription model.

Profitability is another question issue for subscription services planned by various automakers. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche has raised the question publicly. But Seeger said, "Up to now in all the tests, all that we have seen — what we've asked the customer to pay was a profitable basis."

Another issue is that some dealers fear that automakers are trying to bypass them by offering subscription services managed online. Seeger says that isn't an issue with Mercedes.

"We are not at all bypassing them," she said. "We base all our activities on very strong cooperation with the dealers, because if we do not have their buy-in it will not work."

Mercedes dealers "pushed us" to offer the service, she added. "They said, 'We want a test. We want to try. We want to have this as one additional offer for customers who are looking for this. "

Some U.S. car dealers offer their own subscription services, which Seeger doesn't see as a problem.

As for dealers' subscription offerings, Seeger said, "We don't consider this competition because they informed us and we have a very open relationship with the dealers. We know what they are doing."

Seeger said vehicle subscription services are part of the wave of the future.

"With everything we see from the markets, from the customer... going forward, choice is really the topic of the future," she said. "Customers are so diverse and they want to have different offers. Subscription is another part of how to offer mobility to our customers."

Mazda to develop Lithium-Ion 12 Volt Starter Batteries

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TOKYO -- Mazda Motor will develop small lithium-ion batteries for starting hybrid or gasoline vehicles in collaboration with chemicals maker Ube Industries and storage battery startup Eliiy Power.

The partners will develop batteries that are much smaller than the high-capacity ones needed to power electric vehicles. They aim for commercialization in the early 2020s.

Batteries that supply power to engine starters are typically lead-acid based, which are quite heavy. Lithium-ion varieties are expected to be lighter and more durable. Safety features, however, will be key to preventing fires since the batteries are located close to the engine and are susceptible to overheating.

Engine technology is a strength of Mazda's. The Japanese automaker plans to introduce engines with 20-30% better fuel economy in 2019, with engines that are even more fuel efficient currently under development. Mazda has been working to devise starter batteries as part of peripheral systems that support such engines.

Ube produces and sells electrolytes and separators, both key materials for making lithium-ion batteries.

Tokyo-based Eliiy Power develops and produces lithium-ion storage batteries mainly for residential use. Its batteries have undergone a nail penetration test without igniting, and have earned the safety seal of an international certification body based in Germany.

Mazda in October formed a capital partnership with Toyota Motor and has teamed up with the leading Japanese automaker and its group member Denso on electric vehicle technology.

Pirelli Announces Intelligent Tires Called the Cyber Car System

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For more than 20 years, Pirelli's scientists and researchers have been pursuing the goal of making intelligent car tires. Pirelli has been working with its partners the Milan Polytechnic Foundation for Smart Mobility and Berkeley Wireless Research Center and filed 300 patents.

Now, this technology is ready for use and in 2018 it will be available integrated into a car for the first time.

Called the Cyber Car system, it will deliver key information to help driver safety and performance. Cyber Car builds on the success of Pirelli Connesso – launched at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show – which is aimed at individual drivers and delivered through an app on their mobile phone.

Using a sensor housed inside the car tire, the system can produce accurate real-time monitoring of temperature and pressure quite different to that from a rim-based sensor. It is also the only technology to offer a dynamic measure of tire wear. This is calculated by Pirelli by running the car's data through a specially-developed algorithm before feeding it back to the driver.

"We are the expert in tires," says Luigi Staccoli, Executive Vice President Pirelli Digital. "For us, the central factor in using these digital systems is peace of mind for the end user; this is the basic philosophy of Connesso and also Cyber Car."

"This takes Pirelli into the most secret area of cars – vehicle electronics – and we are all very excited about what can be developed," says Luigi Staccoli, executive vice-president, digital, who has been with Pirelli for eight years and has a background as a mechanical engineer. "The most innovative car makers can see that tires are the only part of the car in contact with the road, yet they are the least connected part of the car today. So they are willing to increase the connectivity of the tire to provide a better experience to their users and to improve the performance of their cars."

Pirelli has worked with car manufacturers to integrate this technology – and the first car model fitted with the company's Cyber Car platform is expected to be ready for market this year. It will be up to the car makers themselves what information they deliver to drivers and how – whether through the vehicle dashboard, an app or a combination of both.

The Cyber Car system can also deliver data on the static vertical load, which is the downward force applied to the tire. Although this data is likely to be more useful for a car maker than a driver.

However, this data might be particularly important for electric vehicles, because it has an impact on how long the battery charge lasts and could be used to modify the settings of the car. By knowing the car's accurate weight, the vehicle's central control unit can calculate more precisely just how many miles can be driven before a recharge is needed.

Cyber Car is also the only integrated system to offer Tire ID. This is the passport of the tire and it can be logged with whatever details are required – from the brand and size of the tire, its load and pressure capacities to where the tire was produced and when. Used together with the information on the static vertical load, the Tire ID can be used to optimize tire pressure and even the car's chassis control system to improve car safety and control.

The Tire ID also makes it possible to offer new service features. For example, the car could notify the driver with a seasonal warning in November that it's time to change from the summer tires to winter tires. Or, if the tire is punctured, a repair team would be able to locate a car using the Tire ID via the Cloud, and come directly to the vehicle's location with a suitable replacement tire, removing the wasted time and money involved in taking the car into a garage for service.

The Cyber Car joins Pirelli Connesso, which went on sale in the US early this year and has a rollout planned for several countries in Europe, followed by China in the first quarter of 2019.

TheConnesso tire has clocked up hundreds of thousands of kilometers of testing over the past year in some 50 different vehicles, including Staccoli's own car.

He confesses that he likes to keep the app open as he drives and is hooked on the temperature gauge, which will rise to around 30°C on the highway  in winter or 45°C to 55°C in the summer.

On a test track in the US last July, the tires on a Porsche 911 reached 60°C and triggered a built-in temperature alert.

Pirelli's two digital platforms – one direct to the consumer, the other via the car maker – are still works in progress. The beauty of digital platforms, says Staccoli, is that they are never finished; you can always find improvements or modifications that will be useful to the end user. And work continues on the services that can be provided through such platforms such as car valeting, roadside assistance and servicing.

Both platforms are products of Pirelli's Cyber Technologies Unit, which is dedicated to developing the "talking tire". Also due to be unveiled this year is an updated version of Pirelli's Cyberfleet, which goes into testing in the second quarter. It is aimed at truck and light commercial vehicles, along with car fleets, long-term car leasing and car sharing.

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