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Exclusive interview with Dr. Christian Mohrdieck, Daimler Battery Drive Development

The AAB Conference will bring together authorities in the field of electric mobility, from battery manufacturers to OEMs. Dr. Christian Mohrdieck, Director for Fuel Cell and Battery Drive Development at Daimler will be one of the speakers at this event and present his company's activities in this field. In the run-up to the conference, Dr. Mohrdieck spoke to cars21.com about Daimler's gamble on electric vehicles and his expectations for the AABC.

Christian-Mohrdieck

cars21.com: Since when has Daimler started developing an EV policy and what is your focus?

Christian Mohrdieck: Daimler has started with the development of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in the 1970s and we presented one of our first electric vehicles (EVs) in 1972 already. During the first years, we came out with prototypes, concepts cars and small then bigger fleets. In the 1990s, then there was a lot of activity on BEVs but the problem at that time was the limitation of available technology. The advancement of battery electric vehicles was and still is of course closely connected to advancements in battery technology. Therefore, since li-ion battery technology has matured, serious development of BEVs has become possible. 

At Daimler, we are now in the 3rd phase of the Smart BEV development. Besides the Smart, we have two other BEVs on the road which are the A-class and the electric van Vito. In total, we have a fleet of more than 1000 BEVs on the road and next year we will launch a high-volume series production of the battery electric Smart.

 

How does your collaboration with BYD and the joint venture with Bosch fit into Daimler's EV strategy? Is it only a mean to enter the Chinese market or is this collaboration will affect your mass production in Europe?

Mohrdieck: The collaboration with BYD is especially focused on the Chinese market, yes. What we would like to do together with BYD in our joint venture in Shenzhen is to develop BEVs tailored to the Chinese market using both companies competences in order to make a typical Chinese vehicle, which is obviously a little different to a European, American or Japanese vehicle, because vehicle requirements in China are slightly different as well as the economy structure. 

Does this mean it would be more basic version of a BEV with less features? 

Mohrdieck: That depends. We have observed that customers in developing countries can be equally demanding as customers in developed countries. I would not say that a BEV tailored to the Chinese market has to be a more basic version of an EV. For example regarding battery technologies, the Chinese are very much focused on lithium-ion phosphate battery technology which is a good technology. That would be one difference. A second one can be found in the traffic – Chinese traffic is very different from European traffic and so on. 

Does your joint venture with Bosch focus on charging infrastructure and equipment?

Mohrdieck: No, the joint venture with Bosch is focused on the electric motor. Bosch and Daimler both have a long tradition in electric motors. We have also some in-house competences to build electric motors. We did several concept cars for example where we designed an electric motor, and also have some manufacturing know-how with electric motors. Bosch of course has a long history of electric machines and that is why both companies decided to put together our activities in a joint venture for which we are currently negotiating the final contract. It is for sure a very convenient joint venture because both companies are very close together geographically with their headquarters in the Stuttgart area. Also, Bosch and Daimler have worked in many areas together over the past decades.

 

Many manufactures are engaging in electric mobility, some bringing their EVs on the market this year. What will be Daimler's unique selling proposition in the EV sector?

Mohrdieck: Well, we have already more than 1,000 electric vehicles on the roads currently. I am not sure how many other manufacturers have actually that many electric vehicles deployed. In addition, we have a unique product portfolio from the electric smart to a fuel cell city bus. 

What distinguishes Daimler's EVs from other electric vehicles on the market?

Mohrdieck: We believe that we have a unique drive train and battery technology. Especially our battery technology is high performance regarding not only power and energy, which translates into range, but also regarding lifetime and safety. Our EVs will have the highest standards in this respect.

In which battery technology do you see the greatest potential in the medium and long-run?

Mohrdieck: That depends on the application. For different requirements, you need different battery chemistries. Hybrids for example need a very high-power density in which case lithium-ion phosphate might not be a good choice. In other circumstances, high energy might be more important. So, depending on the requirements, one or the other technology is more favorable. 

Daimler considers three technologies to be very important in the mid-term: NCA which stands for Nickel Cobalt Aluminum technology; NMC which is Nickel Manganese Cobalt technology and Lithium-ion Phosphate technology. Depending on the application, we will choose one or the other, and currently we do have products with each of the three technologies. For example, our S-class hybrid which has been on the market for 2 years now – the first series production car with a lithium-ion battery by the way – has NCA technology. Our battery electric Smart has NMC technology and our hybrid buses are equipped with lithium-ion phosphate technology. We believe it needs several technologies on hand to meet our broad products requirements. 

Is Daimler working on these battery technologies in-house or in collaboration with battery manufacturers?

Mohrdieck: We do both. We work on system battery technology in-house and we do work together with several cell manufacturers. 

What are in general the areas that still need technological development for electric vehicles to become attractive for customers in your opinion? (Apart from battery technology)

Mohrdieck: We already talked about the electric motor. There we need improvement in terms of cost and efficiency. Also a very important area where we need further development is power electronics. Power electronics are a very important cost factor in these vehicles and also a performance factor. We need improvements there, on the technical side but also on the cost side. 

What do you consider necessary for creating a prosper "EV Eco-system"?

Mohrdieck: I think there are requirements on the vehicle's side, especially range. The lifetime of the batteries also plays a great role as many people have concerns about the battery lifetime which then translates into very low residual values of battery cars. A third point is charging time: people do not want to sit even half an hour at a charging station to charge their EV when today you can refill a gasoline car or fuel cell car in 3 minutes and you are ready to go another 400-500km or with diesel technology even 800-1000km. 

Then there are a lot of challenges on the infrastructure side. Charging infrastructure is a very urgent need because most people living in cities, especially in Europe but also in Asia, do not have their own garage or charging spot so they will need public charging infrastructure. 

Which country would you for the moment consider to be the most effective in promoting electric mobility? And how do you evaluate the approach taken by the European Union?

Mohrdieck: There are several countries very active in promoting these new technologies. I would see Germany and France at the forefront, but also other countries are doing a lot. Daimler for example has electric vehicles in many European countries like Germany and France, but also Italy and even the Czech Republic. There certainly is a strong movement towards emissions reduction and more environmentally friendly transportation in all European countries. 

It is often said that European and especially German car makers only integrate EVs into their fleet in order to comply with the EU regulation on CO2 emissions from passenger cars. This regulation prescribes that the average fleet emissions level must be reduced to 120 g CO2 /km by 2012. It is often said that this is the biggest incentives for car makers to actually make EVs. Would you see this really as one of the drivers for OEMs to bring EVs to the market?

Mohrdieck: I can only answer for Daimler. For us there are two driving forces. Number one is our own company strategy. We believe that to offer individual mobility and also mobility with commercial vehicles in the future, we do have to go to alternative powertrains because we will be demanded by the market. I can put it in simple words: If you want to survive as a car company or automotive company, you have to be able to offer these new technologies otherwise you will not be competitive on the market. This, I think, is the strongest driving factor. We want to be a leader in innovation and this means emission reduction and fuel consumption reduction. 

Second factor is regulations, from the EU but also in the US, especially in California, in Japan but also in China. I think most countries all over the world start to set up such regulations and of course Daimler wants to fulfill these regulations.

If you would be asked to formulate a global action plan for a rapid introduction of electric vehicles, what would be your top 3 points on the agenda?

Mohrdieck: One factor is technology: we need further improvements of technology. On the battery side, it is about energy and power density, lifetime, low temperature performances. We also need charging infrastructure, effective and cost-efficient. And thirdly, we need to reduce costs on the vehicle side as well as on the infrastructure side. Both parts are too expensive right now. 

On the vehicle side we have a clear plan how to do this, and we know how to make this a business. So we have to follow our roadmap and we will get there. With the electric Smart which will be on the market next year, we have almost achieved it. Infrastructure on the other hand is not Daimler's business but we do expect infrastructure companies to have a very similar roadmap to set up a commercially available infrastructure which fulfills our customers' needs. 

What are your expectations for the AABC Europe from 6-10 June in Mainz, Germany?

Mohrdieck: I expect it will be at least as good as the conference in Mainz last year which I think was a big success. I have been in discussion and close collaboration with Menahem Anderman for many years, and I think that the AABC is a very successful conference series. 

What I am especially looking forward is to meet experts from Europe but also from all over the world. Last year, there was very high attendance by people coming from outside Europe, so I would expect a very fruitful information exchange and to meet with other OEMs as well as suppliers. Also, a very strong factor during the last conference was meeting with people from the scientific community. 

Many thanks for your answers and your time Mr. Mohrdieck and we wish you an interesting conference!