Tuesday, 30 March 2010

China's Geely buys Volvo for $1.8bn

So why does an automotive acquisition pique my interest? (on BBC or Telegraph)

Well, anyone who follows this blog shouldn't have failed to notice me preaching about how revolutionary PML's Quad Electric Mini is/was. PML (a small Hampshire based company) got caught in the recession, November 2008, and was split asunder. Now one company ("Printed Motor Works") continues their old line of "Printed Armature/Pancake" electric motors and another: "Protean Electric" (that employs 60, mainly engineering, staff). Protean Electric continue to develop the "Hi-Pa Drive" system, of in-wheel car motors and all electric drive train, working closely with Volvo. There's the link.

Volvo's been developing this technology in it's C30 ReCharge plug in hybrid (video below), though it has been dubious that it would actually feature in their forthcoming 2012 models. Development and testing costs are likely the issue here, as it represents a paradigm shift in car propulsion, and Volvo (car division) has been consistently loss making since it was bought by Ford in 1999 for almost 4 times the current valuation.



There's no question in my mind that regenerative hub motors will be the automotive norm by 2030, it's just a matter of how long is spent 'umming and ahhing' over them before they're accepted. The longer it takes for proper electrics/hybrids to take off, the longer it is before we start reducing environmental damage and the deeper we'll get into ugly realms of oil scarcity. Of course, it would also be nice to see the British company, that first developed this ingenious system, profit from it before everyone else rips it off.

Consumer nervousness over using regenerative breaking as the main/sole way of stopping a car will be a major challenge (perhaps the biggest), a conundrum perfectly suited to Volvo, with it's reputation for unimpeachable safety standards.

Hopefully Geely's cash injection will secure the research partnership with Protean. But I suspect Geely will end up being more closely involved in crafting an affordable product. Geely started in refrigeration in 1986 and has worked it's (his) way through motorcycles to being the premier Chinese owned car manufacturer, the only one that has managed to successfully produce it's own fully automatic transmission system.

I imagine that gaining ownership of all Volvo's intellectual property was more than just a bonus for Geely; hopefully they've recognised the particular potential there. They have already signed an R&D agreement with Tanfield Group (presumably to utilise the experience of Smith Electric Vehicles) to work on converting London's black cabs, thanks to co-owning Manganese Bronze. At the very least Geely comes replete with a cheap manufacturing base: China. (Though, oddly Geely's workforce is currently half that of Volvo's)

There is of course a 4th piece of the (successful, next generation, plug-in/series-hybrid car) puzzle still to fall into place: the battery technology. Lighting GT has a Hi-Pa Drive based product available for order right now, considered the Aston martin of electric cars (I'm still dying to see it on the Top Gear track). But the Altairnano lithium-ion battery it packs costs $70k alone. Fine for a ground breaking, limited production, high end, luxury sports car, but not for a family hatchback. However, there is already a huge amount of competition in the lithium battery research field; all car manufacturers are having to push this tech along as fast as possible. So Geely may not even need to bag an exclusive, battery producing, partner. Also, the HI-Pa drive system has an advantage here because of it's inherent efficiency: no transmission loss to lay down power, no transmission loss regenerating (10%-20% each way, repeatedly). If anything the system needs batteries with faster discharge times, rather than greater capacity.


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