(Yonhap interview) Solid-state batteries, software essential for bigger share in EV era

South Korean carmakers need to speed up developing all-solid-state lithium batteries and securing electric vehicle-related software capabilities to gain a bigger share in the era of electric vehicles (EVs), an auto industry expert has said.

All current EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can catch fire once they enter an uncontrolled, self-heating state known as “thermal runaway” in which the fires burn so hot and quickly that it can be extremely difficult to extinguish it or escape in time.

High battery prices, a still short driving range and a lack of charging infrastructure also remain obstacles to be tackled for the spread of battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Those things are expected to sharply improve by 2030 when global automakers aim to replace all or a majority of their lineups with BEVs as governments adopt stricter emissions standards to combat climate change, Kim Tae-nyen, president of mirae Mobility research & services (m.More), told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview.

All new cars sold in the European Union will be zero-emission ones starting in 2035, while half of all new vehicles sold in the United States from 2030 will be zero-emission ones, including plug-in hybrids. The move is part of their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

But the EU reportedly allowed an exemption for the continued sale of cars that run on e-fuels past 2035 at Germany’s request. E-fuels are made using captured CO2 emissions.

At this critical juncture, “The most urgent task for domestic carmakers (represented by Hyundai Motor Group) is to increase their investments in developing next-generation solid-state lithium batteries and securing their battery management software and other EV software capabilities,” Kim said.

Such investments will allow them to release safer, less flammable and low-cost EVs after 2030, said Kim who managed trade and environment issues and arranged auto exhibitions at the Korea Automobile & Mobility Association for nearly three decades.

He currently serves as a senior advisor for the mobility team at a major local law firm, Bae, Kim & Lee LLC., helping lawyers handle mobility-related legal disputes.

In related efforts, Hyundai Motor Group recently opened an EV battery-focused research and development center at Seoul National University (SNU) and also established the Department of Future Automotive Mobility in SNU’s graduate school for EV software programs.

The Korean auto group plans to invest 9.5 trillion won (US$7.09 billion) in the next 10 years to develop next-generation EV batteries, improve the batteries’ function and establish more chargers.

“It’s better late than never. Hyundai Motor Group needs to make business partnerships with advanced partners, such as U.S. solid-state battery developer Solid Power Inc., to secure solid-state battery manufacturing technologies,” Kim said.

The group said it is “in collaboration” with Solid Power and another U.S. firm, Solid Energy System, to secure next-generation battery technologies.

It is time for Hyundai Motor Co. and its smaller affiliate Kia Corp. to look to EVs while reducing the ratio of combustion engine cars in their lineups though it will take time for EVs to prop up the bottom line as much as “cash-cow” combustion engine models, he said.

“As the hardware of EVs undergoes ‘homogenization’, Hyundai and Kia have to differentiate themselves with software capabilities to compete with their bigger rivals such as Tesla, Inc. and BYD Auto Co.,” said Kim.

“They have to develop a whole new, dedicated EV model, not based on existing models, for the mass market, which can be purchased at a reasonable price of around $25,000.”

For now, Hyundai and Kia appear to lag far behind Tesla and BYD when it comes to EV sales targets for the year 2030.

The two Korean carmakers aim to sell a combined 3.64 million EVs in 2030 to rank third after Tesla and BYD, which are aiming to sell 20 million and 10 million units, respectively, in the same year.

Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden in August last year, has also emerged as a major worry for Hyundai and Kia, which make most of their EVs at domestic plants for export to the U.S.

In response to the IRA, which gives up to $7,500 in tax credits to buyers of EVs assembled only in North America, Hyundai Motor group is building a dedicated EV and battery plant in Georgia with the goal of starting production in late 2024.

Hyundai Motor’s other EV-dedicated plant is under construction in South Korea with the aim of beginning operation in 2025.

Kim advised Kia to consider producing EVs at its plant in Mexico to benefit from the U.S. inflation law.

Hyundai Motor Group expects more than 50 percent of its vehicle sales in South Korea, the U.S. and Europe will be battery-powered ones in 2030.

Last but not least, he called on the government to abolish unnecessary regulations in the automobile industry and aggressively expand the charging infrastructure for the spread of EVs.

The government plans to increase the number of EV chargers to 1.23 million units, including 145,000 fast chargers, by 2030 from 250,496 units, including 27,139 fast chargers, as of the end of July.

The country’s charging data include Hyundai’s 247 fast chargers but do not include Tesla’s superchargers. The U.S. electric carmaker currently operates 984 chargers at 144 stations in Korea.

Source: Yonhap News Agency