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Exclusive interview with Dr. Eckhard Karden, technical expert, Ford Europe


Dr. Eckhard Karden is Technical Expert for Battery & Energy Storage Technology at Ford's Corporate Research and Advanced Engineering Centre in Aachen, Germany. has talked to Dr. Karden about Ford's approach to electric mobility on occasion of the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (AABC) Europe from 6-10 June in Mainz, Germany, where he was one of the keynote speakers.

Dr. Karden was a keynote speaker at the AABC Europe 2011 in Mainz. Since when has Ford started developing an EV policy?

Dr. Eckhard Karden: Ford began developing modern electric vehicles in the 1980's. In the 1990's, Ford developed the Ecostar EV and later put the Ranger EV into production. In 2000, Ford was the first car manufacturer to develop a battery electric vehicle, a Ford Ka, with a lithium ion battery End of last year, Ford together with Azure Dynamics launched the Transit Connect Electric in the US and will bring this vehicle to the European market summer this year. By end of this year, Ford will offer the Focus Electric in North Amerika and in 2012 in Europe. Further on in 2013, Ford will launch two new full hybrids and its first serial production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the C-MAX Energi, in Europe.

Our EV policy includes not only the development of vehicles, but also cooperative development of affordable charging stations and infrastructure initiatives. Ford is one of the first movers in the market for electrified vehicles. But what will be Ford's unique selling proposition in the EV sector once every major OEM is offering EVs? How will you distinguish yourself from the competition in this field?

Karden: With the above mentioned portfolio of electrified vehicles Ford offers the customer the power of choice, where she/he can make a the decision which level of electrification is suitable for her/his individual needs. Ford is distinguished in our vehicle electrification with a keen focus on delivering affordable, high quality products to customers. We achieve this in part by electrifying existing high volume, and extremely appealing high quality, vehicle platforms and models. This global scale and leverage means the highest quality electrified products at the most affordable cost. Our strategy is also to share as many common electrification components as possible across platforms and models, such as onboard chargers, DC-DC converters and electric climate control components. What kind of battery technology does Ford favour? In which battery technology do you see the greatest potential in the medium and long-run?

Karden: Ford sees the greatest medium and long-term potential in lithium ion (Li-Ion) battery technology for electrified vehicles. It offers both high power capability, as well as higher energy density. Do you see a potential for supercapacitor technology taking up in mass marketed EVs? What are advantages and disadvantages of using supercapacitors in EVs?

Karden: Supercapacitors would not seem to be an obvious fit, especially not for EVs. While they offer high specific power (W/kg), their energy content is still quite low when compared to competing advanced battery technology. However, should an extremely low cost and high energy storage device with poor power capability emerge, it is possible that supercapacitors, or high power Li-Ion batteries, may be combined to balance out the system needs. This assumes that supercapacitors and/or high power Li-Ion batteries are available. 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.)

Karden: Much more efficient means of achieving passenger comfort via climate control are still necessary to make battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to become attractive for customers. In cold conditions especially, much of the stored energy in a BEV must be used to maintain cabin temperature. This directly affects stored energy consumption and hence reduces energy for vehicle propulsion, and consequently range. Complementary improvement in battery thermal management can also improve range predictability and extent battery life, thereby reducing customer operating cost. What kind of thermal management and battery management system does Ford favour for electric vehicles?

Karden: We presently employ a liquid cooling system for our electrified Focus vehicles to help maximize battery life and gas-free driving range - the latter with regard to plug-in-hybrid versions. The active liquid cooling and heating system also enables the Focus Electric to automatically precondition the battery pack temperature during daily recharging. When the vehicle is plugged in to the power grid, the vehicle system will be able to warm up the battery on cold days and cool it down on hot days. What do you consider necessary for creating a proper "EV Eco-system"?

Karden: Ford is in favor of equitable and broad-based initiatives to support electrification efforts. A key enabler to electric vehicle adoption may be a significant reduction in driver range anxiety. It is generally true that most plug-in vehicle drivers will charge at home overnight, or at work during the day. However, an adequate public charging infrastructure will be required as one of the practical, and psychological, remedies to range anxiety.

Another inducement for electrified vehicle adoption in some cities has been allowing the use of high occupancy vehicle, or car pool, lanes. Customers appear to highly value the daily time savings associated with this government incentive. However, it is clear that governmental incentives need to stay technology neutral to increase the share of all types of low-CO2 vehicles. From an environmental perspective the ramp up of EVs needs to be aligned to an increase in renewable sources for electricity. This will allow to fully capitalize on the merits of this technology. Which country would you for the moment consider to be the most effective in promoting electric mobility?

Karden: Many countries are playing active roles in promoting electric mobility. In Europe, North America and Asia, there are initiatives underway, and planned, to increase the number of electrified vehicles on the road. In Europe, several countries already offer electric vehicle programs and provide a certain level of infrastructure. Also in the US, we start our BEV commercialization in 18 selected cities. 

Only based on an "integrated approach" EVs can be successfully introduced in any country ramp up. This "integrated approach" includes combined efforts of industry to provide advanced electric vehicles, infrastructure providers to offer renewable, low CO2 electricity and charging infrastructure, customers getting used to the EV specifics (e.g. range, affordability) and governments enabling a predictable, supportive but technology neutral regulatory and fiscal framework that is aligned to a reasonable and sustainable ramp-up timing. How is Ford realising this "integrated approach" and does it effect also Ford's electric vehicle range?

Karden: Ford is fully committed to such an "integrated approach" by offering a strong portfolio of fuel efficient vehicles thanks to our Econetic technologies which comprise highly efficient diesel and petrol cars. The further electrification of our vehicles which includes every level of hybridization will play a significant role in achieving our emission goals., which include defintely the upcoming target given by the EU regulation. In addition, all our vehicles are capable to comply with higher blends of biofuels (B7 and E10). Since the crisis in Japan caused by the earthquake on 11 April, Mitsubishi and Nissan are considering now to upgrade their EVs to allow energy storage for domestic needs. A solution that has been advanced by power utilities but has so far been dismissed by OEMs. What is Ford's view on this subject?

Karden: A lot of things are currently in discussion, especially grid communication, smart charging, and also use of the stored electric power. Together with different energy providers we are in discussions on technical solutions and features for the future to maximize the potential of electric mobility solutions. However, an (electric) vehicle has to fulfill first of all its mobility function. The more additional, secondary functions are fulfilled the higher the costs of the vehicles. As EVs are at least in the beginning already linked to high initial costs such secondary functions do not have priority at this point in time. 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?

  1. significant reduction of battery costs
  2. investment in infrastructure (renewable electricity and charging infrastructure)
  3. clearly defined political sustainability road map What are your impressions from the AABC Europe that took place 6-10 June in Mainz, Germany?

Karden: As the micro-hybrid market is growing faster in Europe than in other markets, we had a vivid discussion on this topic in the session that I chaired. Lead/acid 12 volt will remain the predominant battery choice in this field, and it is undergoing rapid technological development, targeting not only extended shallow-cycling life but also significantly increased charge acceptance for regenerative braking. Additional storage devices, either supercapacitors or high-power Li-ion batteries, could improve charge acceptance, voltage quality, and redundancy, but all at significant on-cost. Another interesting discussion topic particulatly in Europe is 48 volts, a moderately increased voltage level that might be useful to establish a new hybrid class between micro and mild, as they are in production today. Again, the cost/benefit analysis will be crucial. Many thanks, Dr. Karden!