EVS-23: It's About the Plug-ins, Stupid!

Anaheim, California--It's not every day that an engineer from a global automaker gets hissed at a major industry conference.


But when Honda's Dan Bonowitz spoke during the plenary session of the Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS-23), there was actual--though muted--hissing from the back of the room.


The offending statement? "We do not believe that [lithium-ion batteries] are ready for real-world deployment in high-discharge applications."


The tenor of the conference clearly indicates otherwise. As noted yesterday, so much has changed in a year that electric-drive vehicles from major automakers are now assumed to be fact, and the question is not whether but when--and of course how.


Bonowitz got off on the wrong foot, attempting to show a video that had accompanied the launch of the company's FCX Clarity fuel-cell sedan at the LA Auto Show a few weeks earlier. It took several minutes to bring up the volume, and even then the picture was small and murky from most of the seats at the packed plenary session. He finally cut it off and acknowledged that he hadn't made a good start.


Does Honda seriously believe lithium-ion batteries aren't ready for primetime? Battery makers say no, though they don't want to go on the record. Just like any other automaker, they say, Honda is talking to the companies that make large-format lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications.


The FCX Clarity already uses a lithium-ion battery in conjunction with its fuel cell, in fact. "We believe it's the first use of lithium-ion batteries for motive power" that will hit the road, said Bonowitz. (This neatly excluded Toyota's use of a tiny lithium-ion pack for idle-stop restarting in a mild-hybrid Vitz sold only in Japan several years ago).


The FCX Clarity will be leased for $600 a month, starting next summer, to selected customers in Southern California. "That means," said one bystander, "that Honda's picking up the other $600,000 on each vehicle." Which is as good a way as any to summarize the cost challenges of fuel-cell vehicles--even before looking at the infrastructure challenges.


If one statement sums up this conference so far, it's this one, overheard in the hallways: "It's all about the plug-ins, stupid!"


I'll be posting every day from EVS-23. If anyone has specific issues they'd like me to explore, please contact me: J V [dot] spectrum [at] ieee [dot] org. To those who've already sent me notes, thank you! I'll address them or respond over the next few days, I promise.


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