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BMW Open To Technology Sharing Arrangement To Help Electric Segment

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By Rick Carlton

As the old saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And, in the case of trying to lift the electric car proposition up from its current level of mediocrity to something more like an active EV auto segment, everyone is apparently beginning to glom on Elon Musk’s ‘work together Comrade’ message – at least for the next couple of years anyway.

According to reports from Automotive News and others, BMW now asserts that they are amenable to sharing its co-developed Samsung battery cell technology with others, in hopes of producing more substantive economies of scale and, thereby, drive the final product price of EV’s down to acceptable mass-market levels. "If Mercedes called us, we would be happy to find a way with Samsung-SDI to supply them with battery cells," said BMW’s Purchasing Director Klaus Draeger.

Consequently the company and its Korean manufacturing partner are already planning for a "(…) 20 to 30 percent (increase in production inventory) in 2016 from its 2014 level.” It may be remembered that BMW and Samsung-SDI began to develop and sell battery systems in 2009, in order to support and evolve electrification for the brand’s i3, i8, and now-emerging X5 hybrid.

Along the way, the partners also entered into agreements with Italy’s FCA, including work with its major sub-brands including Chrysler and Ferrari. In Chrysler’s case, the SDI battery package is integrated with the current Fiat 500e, and reputedly to be so expensive to purchase, that Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne says that he loses $14k on the sale of each unit.

The cost of the battery system consumes up to 40% of an EV’s final sale price, so the ability to sell more battery integrations, to more manufacturers is clearly on the mind of BMW, along with its primary evangelist Elon Musk. “If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles,” he said recently, “(…) but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal."

Along with the movement toward more egalitarian, ‘one-world’ thinking associated with battery technologies, the market is also experiencing a ‘full-steam ahead’ movement when it comes to charge-infrastructure expansion. Recent events associated with the rollout of a number of commercial charging networks like Florida’s CarCharging, along with Musk’s own Tesla Supercharger program, suggest that sometime between today and 2017, enough electrical charging systems will be publically available to allow an EV driver to travel comfortably from the East Coast to the West Coast.

On the other hand, overall mid and long-term cost/price impacts on the national electrical grid appear to be immeasurable, nor are there any financial impact studies available to support, or refute assertions of utility segment contraction due to the EPA’s currently Draconian ‘War On Coal.’ This latter issue is particularly vexing for anyone who understands that should EV demand suddenly spike, point of sale costs are going to go up significantly, because nearly 40% of all-purpose electrical generation is derived by clean-coal mining that is currently being shutdown by the Obama Administration. So, stay tuned since it appears that things are about to get really, really interesting.