By Hans Greimel, Crain News Service
YOKOHAMA, Japan (July 1, 2013) — German supplier Robert Bosch G.m.b.H., aiming to develop an advanced lithium ion battery that can power electric vehicles much longer than today's batteries, has dumped its South Korean battery partner for a Japanese one.
But at first blush, its choice to team with GS Yuasa Corp. seems dubious.
GS Yuasa was all but unknown until January, when its overheating lithium ion power packs forced the global grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet.
Then, this month, problems with GS Yuasa's automotive lithium ion batteries forced Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to recall the i electric vehicle and Outlander plug-in hybrid crossover in Japan.
A good fit
But Herbert Hemming, president of Bosch's Japan operations, said the companies dovetail perfectly to cover the other's weaknesses. GS Yuasa is strong in cell chemistry while Bosch is an expert at battery control, system integration and mass production.
"If we add our capabilities in overall system management, in controlling batteries and their output and making secure systems and being very advanced in this complicated manufacturing," he said, "then we really can add value to this joint venture."
Under the partnership, announced in Yokohama last week, Bosch will team with GS Yuasa and trading house Mitsubishi Corp. to create a joint venture aimed at developing low-cost, high energy-density lithium ion batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.
Bosch will hold a 50-percent stake, while GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi each take 25 percent in the as-yet unnamed venture, which will be based in Stuttgart, Germany. Operations are scheduled to start early next year, Bosch said.
Looking toward 2020
Mr. Hemming said the initial target is R&D of better batteries, not immediate commercialization. Global capacity for the current generation of lithium ion batteries already greatly exceeds current demand, he said. Bosch's goal is to leapfrog the pack with new technology, to be ready when demand for electrified cars takes off. That will be after 2020, he predicted.
"If you look at capacities out there, it is double the demand," Mr. Hemming said. "In 2020, maybe 10 percent will be electrified. From 2020 onwards, most likely there will be a steeper increase of electrification, and then we need the right battery. So that is the target of this."
Bosch has been scouting a new battery partner since it broke up its venture with Samsung SDI of South Korea last year. That 50-50 venture, SB LiMotive, was supposed to develop and make batteries for electrified cars. But Bosch sold its stake.
This month, Mitsubishi recalled some vehicles equipped with batteries linked to GS Yuasa after the battery in one car melted and another caught fire in March.
Those batteries were made by Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture between Mitsubishi Motors and GS Yuasa Corp. Mitsubishi said it and GS Yuasa ironed out a manufacturing fix last month to prevent the defects.
In some instances, workers dropped the batteries, causing parts of the battery cells to break off and contaminate the cells. In other cases, a screening process applied excessive force to the batteries, which also caused internal damage to the cells.
To fix the problems, the company reduced steps in which the batteries were carried by hand and switched its screening process to avoid wear-and-tear on the cells. It also introduced additional video surveillance of the assembly line to double check for quality issues.
The auto battery problems evoked those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which had its global fleet grounded because of overheating lithium ion batteries.
The Boeing and Mitsubishi battery packs trace their origins to GS Yuasa. But the batteries were made at different plants and have different materials and designs.
Mr. Hemming defended Bosch's new partner as having sound core technology.
"The findings do not show that the cell itself has an issue," he said of investigations into GS Yuasa's battery glitches. "GS Yuasa has had for a very long time strong capability in cell chemistry. This is clearly not the failure. It is other things that go back to battery management and so forth. We do not see any issue here."
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.