EVS-23: Rumors & comments & questions, oh my! (1 of 2)

Anaheim, Californiaâ''Is EVS already dead? That was just one of the questions thatâ''s been debated late into the night here at the Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS-23).

Among the plenaries, the workshops, the auditorium sessions (on no fewer than six parallel tracks, damnit), the small lecture series, the lunches, the receptions, and of course gallons of urn coffee are hallway chats, sidebar conversations, and random comments.

So hereâ''s my list of factoids, comments, questions, suppositions, and a bit of opinion (broken into two parts, â''cause there were so many). Theyâ''ve been gathered from three intensive days of discussions with engineers, technologists, researchers, and executives. They were from automakers, battery companies, research institutions, regulatory bodies and more.

Consider this food for thought on the state of electric vehicles today:

- Is EVS already dead? Many of us have debated whether, within 10 years, thereâ''ll simply be no need for EVS. By then, its topics will routinely be part of mainstream auto and utility industry conferences. When Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) conferences start running tracks on energy storage alternatives, and electric-drive systemsâ'¿itâ''s over. Some say five years, some say 10. But where will the true believers and garage converters go then?

- Could it be? Did Toyota goof, big-time? Itâ''s starting to appear that they initially put their money on the wrong lithium-ion chemistry. Their long-term partner Panasonic, which makes nickel-metal-hydride battery packs for the Prius and other Toyota hybrids, has most experience with cobalt-based lithium-ion batteriesâ''the ones behind those videos and pictures of flaming laptops youâ''ve seen on TV or YouTube. Most automakers view them as simply too risky to use in vehicles. GM, on the other hand, put out solicitations to dozens of battery makers for its Volt battery pack, got back 13 proposals, and issued development contracts to Continental (using new vendor A123â''s iron-nanophosphate cells) and to another new vendor, Compact Power Inc. (using LG Chemâ''s manganese spinel cells). Perhaps tight kereitsu relationships arenâ''t so useful when transformative technologies come along?

- Toyota has clearly changed its tune on plug-in hybrids. The company expressed polite skepticism on the topic as recently as six months ago. But as part of the opening plenary here, Koei Saga, the senior general manager in the companyâ''s hybrid-vehicle system engineering division, said clearly, â''We think a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is the most practical approach for normal-size passenger cars.â'' On Sunday and Monday the company offered drives in its own Prius plug-in conversion (adding a second NiMH battery pack to the standard one, for an all-electric range of 7 to 10 miles). Gratuitous advice to GM, Ford et al.: Never, ever count Toyota outâ''as many of you have learned, painfully, over the last three decades.

- Fun factoid: According to a GM insider, for a short while the project now known as Chevrolet Volt was internally called the EV2. But the firestorm around the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? gave that name too many unfortunate connotations, hence Volt.

Iâ''m headed back home in a few hours. If anyone has specific follow-up questions theyâ''d like me to explore, please contact me: J V [dot] spectrum [at] ieee [dot] org.

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