I know that this is dicey territory for a blogger to tread in 95% of Ohio, but I have some good things to say about the University of Michigan.
Yesterday, Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan opened the doors on their new battery-testing lab in Ann Arbor. Ford contributed $2.1 million to the $8 million dollar facility (the only automaker to do so), and they split the bill with the US Department of Energy, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the University of Michigan itself.
But what does this new battery-testing lab mean to the everyday driver, like yourself?
In the last 15 years, car batteries have gone from lead-acid (which just sounds unpleasant) to nickel-metal-hydride to the current lithium-ion model, available in the C-MAX and Fusion Hybrid models. The lithium-ion batteries are 25-30% smaller than the nickel-metal-hydrides, as well as about 3x powerful. If we continue on that path, batteries will get smaller and their power capabilities will go up, which will hopefully reduce the price.
More Affordable Hybrids
Electric and hybrid model vehicles are often more expensive than their non-hybrid brethren; consider the Focus Electric which starts at $35,200 — $18k more than the lowest-cost standard gas model. A lot of that markup comes from the cost to produce the batteries. Making cheaper electric cars makes environmentally-conscious drivers happy, which makes dealerships who sell to them happy, which makes FoMoCo happy, which makes Alan Mullaly happy enough to kiss a battery instead of a whole car.
Ted Miller, the manager of battery research at Ford (which probably looks awesome on a business card, actually) states in Ford’s press release that they “have battery labs that test and validate production-ready batteries, but that is too late in the development process for us to get our first look,” which is kind of frightening. You know how your dad always said, “Measure twice, cut once,” any time he was doing something carpenter-y? Miller is basically saying that when it came to batteries, they were cutting once, then measuring twice, which is completely backwards.
Especially in the wake of the recent Tesla Motors scare about the flammability of electric and hybrid batteries, safety is a huge priority for electric buyers. This isn’t to say that current batteries aren’t safe; the end result of the Tesla scare was that the fire was extremely well-contained in the battery’s firewalls, and the only reason it burned as long as it did was the firefighting team on the scene was unfamiliar with the proper procedures for extinguishing it.
Ford is committed to the idea of constantly bettering its products, as it has shown multiple times in the last few years (2013 Fusion and Escape redesigns, anyone?), and this battery lab is no exception. Its batteries as they stand are tested for durability up to 150,000 miles and 10 years worth of battery life, so here’s hoping that they will get even better numbers from this new lab.