The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) has been hosting webinars over the last few months dealing with different topics in the automotive industry. On April 1, the Q’d Up Mobility series explored “Navigating the Path to an All-Electric World with Three Parts of the EV Value Chain.”
It featured three top experts including: Jagdeep Singh, Co-Founder, CEO & Chairman, QuantumScape; Lionel Selwood Jr., President & CEO, Romeo Power; and Dimitri Kazarinoff, CEO, XL Fleet. The discussion was moderated by Hope King, Business Reporter at Axios.
“I’d like to welcome you to this edition of Q’d Up Mobility,” said NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts. “These sessions brought to you by Deloitte are intended to bring you the latest news from some of the leading companies in the mobility sector. I’m sure you’ve noticed that our automotive industry is in the middle of a revolution. Nearly every OEM is talking about electrification of their line-up which makes the all electric world seem much more of a reality than a fantasy. Here today are the CEOs from QuantumScape, Romeo Power and XL Fleet. They will discuss the current power landscape, the overall EV outlook for 2021 and what the future holds.”
Moderator Hope King: “Our topic this afternoon is ‘Navigating the Path to an All-Electric World with Three Parts of the EV Value Chain.’ You’ve got QuantumScape that’s solid state lithium metal batteries, we’ve got Romeo Power which is energy dense commercial battery packs and battery management systems and we’ve also got the electrified powertrain for fleets and charging infrastructure with XL Fleet. I want to start off with having each of you talk about where exactly you sit in the EV landscape and how your technology plays in the future of this transformation we’re seeing.”
“QuantumScape is a next-gen battery supplier,” said Jagdeep Singh, Co-Founder, CEO & Chairman, QuantumScape. “The battery is one of the key parts of the powertrain. It stores the energy that drives the car. That’s the part that we do. We make cells, we provide those cells to automotive OEMs. Automotive OEMs put them in the packs and add the other components for the powertrain for motors and so on. Our fundamental focus is really on batteries that can deliver a level of performance that enables EVs to be competitive with the combustion engine. That’s kind of in our view, the missing link, so we’re happy to focus on that core piece.”
“Romeo Power is leading battery technology provider,” said Lionel Selwood Jr., President & CEO, Romeo Power. “What we focus on is putting the most safe, reliable, energy dense and configurable battery pack technology on the road. What we do is we qualify the best cells and help develop the best cells, we utilize our proprietary design and production line and put forth leading battery packs and battery management systems. Right now, we are allowing 300 miles on a single charge. We are driving towards 500 miles on a single charge in the future.”
“XL Fleet is a fleet electrification solution provider,” said Dimitri Kazarinoff, CEO, XL Fleet. “We have plug-in hybrid systems available for our customers today, also charging infrastructure. We’ve got over 4,000 systems on the road, over 150 million customer miles on those systems. We’re really trying to drive sustainability into the commercial fleet market.”
Moderator Hope King: “All of you must have had a pretty exciting week watching the [Biden] administration unveil what they plan for the future of transportation. I want to start with some of the factors that have really led to the production of the electric cars (EVs) that might be a little bit cheaper, in some ways more appealing to consumers. At the heart of all this is these batteries that have to be safer, have to be cheaper and longer lasting. With all of these factors combined to really have the potential come to fruition, what challenges do you each see within this industry that you still need to overcome to make EVs very competitive on a cost basis, on an appeals basis versus traditional internal combustion engines?”
Jagdeep Singh: “First of all, it’s great to see this administration’s commitment to energy transformation. It’s fantastic to see top level report for electrification of the fleet including charging stations and incentives to buy EVs. Having said that, no amount of government support is going to drive EVs into the mainstream. At the end of the day, the vehicles have to be competitive with combustion engines. They also have to be desirable, people have to want to drive them. The good news is there is a potential for all of that to happen. The vehicles can be very desirable and very competitive but, from our perspective, there has to be an improvement in the battery. Today’s batteries fall short on a number of key metrics: the charge time limitations come from the battery, the range limitations has to do with the density of the battery, the safety issues. Our view has been to really enable this transformation to happen, what you need is a battery that can compete with a combustion engine and to do that, you can’t just rely on incremental improvements that have been going on for the last few decades of 3 to 5 percent per year. You need a new chemistry. We’ve been focused on a new chemistry that involves a lithium metal anode with a solid state electrolyte. That combination becomes the highest energy density configuration you can have on the anode enabling us to deliver cells that have 50 to 80 percent greater range. You can fast charge these cells in 15 minutes instead of an hour for normal batteries. You have safer operation and lower cost.”
Lionel Selwood Jr.: “Safety is number one. All of our solutions are single cell fault tolerant which means that if one cell goes into thermo runaway that does not propagate into the neighboring cells. Again, this is verified internally at Romeo as well as my underwriters laboratory. Safety first and foremost. We really focus on that as a number one priority across Romeo. The second of course if the reliability aspect that Jagdeep touched on. Today, we’ve been delivering to the largest OEMs in the world. We have more than 700,000 plus miles and counting with trucks in the hands of fleet customers. So insuring that you have a robust vehicle, a robust truck, is extremely important. Then, you get to the range. Today, we’re going 300 miles on a single charge on our largest capacity batteries and charging in 30 minutes. We need to get to the 500 miles on a single charge and charge it in 15 minutes. We want to get to that 1,000 miles a day where you 500 miles on a single charge, charge when you’re eating lunch and you go back on the road for another 500 miles. So that is when the Class A becomes an absolute no brainer. We’re ahead of everyone else today but we need to get to the 500 miles on a single charge. I’m highly confident that we’ll get.”
Moderator Hope King: “A lot of it is trial and error. Let’s talk more about your development process. What have been some of the challenges that you’ve encountered along the way and maybe you can talk about some of the things you’ve had to overcome as well to make this a lot safer and the reliability aspect.
Lionel Selwood Jr.: “When we started our company, one of the big audacious goals, we said we wanted to build one of the world’s best test validation laboratories. We have a fully enclosed end-to-end reliability and validation capabilities at Romeo. This is why we are able to, our technology today on a modular level, for example, is able to withstand 25G’s of force at any direction. We validated that internally. Our approach has been always making sure that we qualify starting at the cell level, the absolute best cells that are available, from a safety and reliability and density standpoint, we scale up that same mantra to beat the module, get it to the pack level and make sure that we really push the technology before we put it in the hands of our customers. When we get to our customers, we partner hand in hand with them to do a very robust test campaign to ensure that the trucks are performing flawlessly.”
Dimitri Kazarinoff: “One of the big challenges, especially in the commercial vehicle applications, is just the diversity of duty cycle and types of vehicles. One thing that XL Fleet did early on was to put telematics devices on all of our systems and collect duty cycle data to ensure that the function of the systems and the design of the systems is really fit for purpose and the application. As you can imagine as you get into heavier vehicles, those duty cycle challenges can become much more significant. Take a heavy duty refuge truck for example, if it’s fully loaded, you’ve got to start that thing on a steep grade in someone’s neighborhood but you’ve also got to run at a relatively high speed to get back to the depot or the dump and the drivetrain has a lot of demands. If you don’t design it properly, you won’t get that mission accomplished. Especially when you talk about the EV, you might get half of the neighborhood done and not the whole thing. We’ve taken all of that data and used that in the development process to make sure that the systems we’re bringing to market are really fit for purpose, are reliable and meet the needs of the application.”
Moderator Hope King: “I want to switch into this idea of proving this development that you guys have been working on. The idea that this is an exciting space is not an idea that anyone’s going to argue. I kind of want to understand from each of you how your companies have tried to ensure some transparency during this development process. What kind of difference it makes for your company when talking to investors, really selling this to customers and adding to the credibility of the EV space?”
Jagdeep Singh: “Transparency is one of the most important and biggest factors in the battery industry today. For us, the key development innovation was the need for very fast cycle times. In battery chemistry development, it’s all about you try something you, your test labs and you redesign it. The faster you can get that feedback back, the more experiments you can try and the more you can implement. We were targeting, from the beginning, trying to get a 24-hour cycle. Design the cell, have our equipment in the test lab on site where we have every kind of battery test you can get that can run literally overnight and the next morning, you’ll get feedback and modify it. That’s been one of the key steps we’ve been able to use to address these fundamental challenges.
Relative to transparency, the battery issue has gotten a bad rap because, as you said a lot of people make claims that are kind of baseless. Worse than that what happens a lot of the time is people make claims to reveal partial data about the performance of their cells and not reveal the other key parts that also have to be there. The average observer doesn’t even know what questions to ask. It’s really difficult to evaluate how real a particular claim is. QuantumScape has been around for 10 years and it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say there’s a battery claim made every week pretty much. We never hear from these guys again because they don’t have any data.
We took the approach rather than make claims to kind of show the data for 10 years we didn’t issue a single press release because we didn’t have the level of data we felt was needed. Once we went public late last fall, we had a battery showcase day in December where we presented a full suite of performance data around the key metrics that are required… you need to have data on what’s the cycle life of your cells, that’s not enough, the cycle rates under high rates of current which is basically high power, what you need to drive a car and charge a car, if you elevate the temperature batteries can be made to work better under a short amount of time but you have to work across the full temperature range. The data we showed was a complete set of testing around cycle life, temperature range, current density, aggressive driving and that complete set of data really provides the world with an objective way to assess the level of performance that QuantumScape provided.”
Moderator Hope King: “Many customers are very educated now and they are very passionate about this real transformation so they are doing this on their own. I want to go to the idea of subsidies. Really the driver of the buying trends that we’ve seen over the past decade or so it’s being driven by local and national subsidy programs. In the U.S., it’s intended to support the growth of the industry and the transformation from a consumer perspective. Have you seen that really trickle down?”
Dimitri Kazarinoff: “I would say in the commercial vehicle space, as you mentioned, a lot of the incentives have been regional and local and so they’ve been kind of spotty. We’ve been fortunate with the products that we’ve brought to market being cost effective. We’ve been able to generate our more than 4,000 system sales without incentives for the most part. The one thing the [Biden] administration did early on was to ask for a valuation of Carbon. If you think about really what we’re all trying to do in terms of driving sustainability, if we can get aligned around the economics of the real impact of Carbon and therefore the value of what all of these solutions can provide, that’s going to provide much more of a holistic push to drive adoption. We’re certainly all trying to make sure that we’re driving costs down and we’re able to provide an attractive financial return to customers. At XL Fleet, we focus on reliability, sustainability and net positive financial return. That’s what we think really drives adoption in the industry.”
Lionel Selwood Jr.: “What we’ve been a beneficiary of is quite frankly people come into our headquarters at Romeo and we don’t win any business without being transparent in terms of the data. We’re very, very transparent down from sales selection, recommendations to our customers up to the pack recommendations, configurations that we offer, etc. Because ultimately my data is a truck kicking butt on the track which we’ve been doing since back in 2018. So that data from a transparency from a data standpoint really helps get our customers comfortable. And by the time we get them in their vehicle, it’s a no-brainer, it’s an after thought. They know exactly how it’s going to work, the exact conditions as well as the corner keys. But with that said, we’ve also been building a business in a reality without incentives, right. We believe, one day, incentives may go away, administrations change that’s just a way of life. However, it’s driving this administration’s mandate. It’s accelerating conversations that we’re having and quite frankly it’s accelerating additional partnerships that are bringing them to the table sooner. The beauty about this is the nonsense is going to get shaken out. At the end of the day, the vehicles have to perform. The vehicles will perform in a Romeo powered battery.”
Past Q’d Up Mobility webinars included topics such as “Enhancing Road Safety with 5G”, “The Future of LiDar and Radar” and “Designing Experiences for Smart Mobility,” among many others. There will be more Q’d Up Mobility webinars coming soon so be sure to check the link below.
For more information or to watch other Q’d Up Mobility webinars, visit https://naias.com/qd-up