August 1, 2018 / 11:04 AM / a year ago

REFILE-FOCUS-Auto suppliers retool to chase electric vehicle bonanza

 (Corrects reference to Novec liquid in paragraph 2 to
    By Nick Carey
    ST. PAUL, Minn., Aug. 1 (Reuters) - In what seems to be a
magic trick, Dele Fayemi runs a batch of batteries in a beaker
of boiling water - a physical impossibility that should cause a
short circuit. 
    But instead of a highly-dangerous combination of water and
electricity, the 3M Co         engineer is testing the batteries
in Novec, a non-flammable, non-conductive liquid the
conglomerate has sold to cool supercomputers, and which it now
aims to sell to automakers to cool batteries. 
    Maintaining a constant, low temperature helps electric
vehicles (EVs) drive longer distances, so keeping batteries cool
could help solve a key problem for automakers: a lack of range
has been a major obstacle to the mass adoption of electric cars.
    "As you can see, the temperature remains constant," at 32
Celsius (90 Fahrenheit), Fayemi said, the boiling point of this
particular batch of Novec, which 3M also wants to sell to data
centers to keep servers cool.
    "Automakers are trying to figure out how to get the absolute
maximum out of batteries," said Ray Eby, head of 3M's automotive
electrification program, which was created last year. "That's
right in 3M's wheelhouse." 
    Major automakers plan to roll out hundreds of new electric
vehicle models over the next several years, fueled by
investments that consultancy AlixPartners has estimated at up to
$255 billion through 2023. 
    To put that in context, in 2017 all the world's automakers
and suppliers combined invested $115 billion in research and
development, and had capital expenditures of $234 billion. 
    Much of that investment will flow to suppliers, but only if
they can offer ways to cut electric vehicle manufacturing costs,
which are still higher than for internal combustion cars. 3M and
other automotive technology companies are looking for ways to
adapt to electric vehicles existing products that enjoy
economies of scale from other markets.         
    Along with major suppliers like BorgWarner Inc         and
Aptiv PLC         , others like aluminum company Norsk Hydro ASA
         and synthetic rubber maker Trinseo SA         are
developing products to extend the driving ranges of electric
vehicles, attacking a significant barrier to higher sales. 
    Suppliers hope automakers will adopt their technology early
in the development process so they can sell similar products to
more than one customer. 
    With no set approach to developing EVs, automakers are
pursuing their own paths, giving suppliers a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to influence what parts and even what materials to
    "Eventually we'll see more standardization in the
high-voltage market, but it's not there yet," said Alan Amici,
vice president of transportation solutions for TE Connectivity
Ltd        .
    That's why TE and other suppliers using embedded teams of
engineers within the engineering operations of major automaker
customers. From inside, suppliers can pitch existing products
and materials, or ones they have in development. 
    Their customers are looking for ways to get more driving
miles per charge, tackle technical problems such as
electromagnetic interference or, most importantly, cut costs on
vehicles that are as yet unprofitable.
    St. Paul-based 3M formed its automotive electrification
group as global automakers rolled out ambitious investment
plans, the bulk of which are earmarked for China. The Chinese
government has enacted escalating electric-vehicle quotas
starting in 2019.
    3M will not disclose its spending on EV technology, but
executive chairman Inge Thulin says it is a "big, big
    The company has already provided "thermal management"
technology for General Motors Co's        Bolt EV to extend its
    Taiwanese auto startup Xing Mobility is using Novec to cool
the batteries in its high-performance Miss R model, and 3M says
other automakers are working to adopt the technology, but
declined to disclose names.
    3M also aims to repurpose filter technology used in cell
phones for EVs to make infotainment screens and consoles
brighter while at the same time using less energy, helping boost
battery range. 
    It also has technology, again from cell phones, to cut
electromagnetic interference - that, for instance, enables EVs
to drive under power lines without various functions cutting

    Making vehicles lighter extends EV range.     
    Norsk Hydro, which already supplies Tesla Inc         , is
figuring out how to marry up products from two of its own
businesses, extruded body-frame parts and precision tubing, to
develop new ways for cooling battery packs, said Mike Tozier,
who leads Hydro's advanced product development in North America.
    That way, Hydro should be able to provide automakers with
more ways to lighten their loads and thus make aluminum a more
attractive choice.     
    "Automakers are more comfortable with steel, so you're
automatically fighting an incumbent material there," Tozier
said. "But automakers are looking aggressively at more options
because they have to remain cost competitive at high volumes."
    The push to find ways to add to EV range extends down to the
    Trinseo has invested in a plant in Germany that will
increase its synthetic rubber production capacity 33 percent to
meet anticipated growth in electric vehicle production, and will
help the supplier develop more efficient products. Tires made
with synthetic rubber can already boost efficiency by 12 percent
compared to conventional tires, said Hayati Yarkadas, a senior
vice president at the company. 
    "The development cycle requested for EVs is significantly
shorter and faster than what we have faced with the traditional
automotive industry," he said. 

 (Reporting By Nick Carey. Editing by Joseph White and Nick
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