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Better batteries power up Taiwan’s electric car industry

Here’s some of what I saw being done during a recent tour, in advance of the (electric vehicle) Taiwan trade show. The Line-up currently ranges from miniscule city car to a full-sized, three-seat-row family van

  • Electric Car

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Last time, I described Taiwan’s EV ambitions and policies.

Here’s some of what I saw being done during a recent tour, in advance of the (electric vehicle) Taiwan trade show, next April. It’s just a beginning, but shows good promise.

Electric Minivan: From a modest start making textiles 65 years ago, the Yulon Group grew into a manufacturing and real-estate colossus. It’s in a car-assembly joint venture with Nissan and independently makes vehicles under its Luxgen brand.

Five years ago, it decided to expand into electric vehicles. The first result is a battery-powered version of its MPV minivan. This is a full-size, sophisticated, three-row family-hauler, loaded with high-tech driving aids. A hefty 40.7 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery — nearly twice the size of a Nissan Leaf’s — supplies a single electric motor, with a range of 112 kilometres and loads of power.

Luxgen’s main drawback, because of the big battery pack and limited production, is a price tag of around $70,000 (U.S.). Its main use, for now, is in hotel, resort and government shuttle services.

Yulon’s target is the huge Chinese market. North America is some time away.

Better batteries power up Taiwan’s electric car industry

Tiny EVs: Donald Wu appears to be seems an eccentric scientist but he’s kept his Pihsang Energy Group afloat for 30 years, starting with, he says, the world’s first electric scooters. The company has added advanced batteries, e-bikes and, more recently, battery-powered small buses and cars. It’s also among the world’s biggest producers of electric medical scooters for the disabled and elderly.

A key feature is the company’s lithium-iron-phosphate battery. To demonstrate its safety, Wu slammed it with a heavy rock while it discharged at full power. Although the blow displaced some of the cylindrical cells, it kept running. No fire or explosion.

Pihsang’s cars — the miniscule A100 city car; top speed, 78 kilometres per hour, and slightly larger A300, which slowly climbs to 100 — are rudimentary. But Wu says he’s sold about 1,000 in Europe, where the A100 is popular with seniors unable to walk long distances but not ready to use medical scooters.

Electric scooters: Over 40 years, Kuan Mei Plastic Co. has expanded from injection molding of motorcycle cowls and top cases to assembling two types of electric scooters. The smaller, cheaper “Line,” wop speed of 25 kilometres an hour, uses a lead-acid battery and has a 70-kilometre range. The more useful the “Kola,” which hits 45 kilometres per hour with a range of about 50, contains an advanced lithium-ion battery. Kuan Mei makes the plastic bits and buys other parts from Taiwanese suppliers.

So far, it’s sold only 100 e-scooters in Taiwan, but aggressive government targets should boost the local market, and it aims to sell in Italy and France.

Battery swapping: Swapping, as an alternative to recharging, hasn’t yet caught on with electric cars, despite Tesla proposing it for its pricey Model S. But Fortune Electric Co. has a system that exchanges a bus battery in less than 10 minutes.

How? Unlock a panel on the side of the bus, remove the 100-kilogram battery pack with a small forklift, take it to a charger, install a fresh battery and lock the panel. Ten buses currently use the system, says sales engineer Chris Chang.

Fortune also builds charging stations and, like several other Taiwanese companies, is developing highly advanced systems, using cloud technology, for managing them. This includes , including the charging process and billing, helping drivers locate and if necessary reserve stations, and also monitoring battery performance.

It hopes to find a partner for North America.

Better Battery: Dijiya Energy Saving Tech Inc. says by the end of next year it will offer an EV battery with a solid, rather than liquid, electrolyte — the material that fills each cell and conducts the current between the positive and negative electrodes.

This transformational advance would let the battery safely operate up to 400 Celsius, making it cheaper and longer lasting.

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