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‘Reducing lithium-ion battery cost is top priority at Hyundai’

Ronendra Singh | Updated on July 11, 2019 Published on July 11, 2019

Yong-Seok Kim, Head of Team – Eco-technology System and Development, R&D Division, Hyundai Motor Group

Korean carmaker’s R&D chief dwells on the Kona and the road ahead for electric mobility

Hyundai Motor India, which launched its Kona electric SUV this week, will offer roadside assistance to customers for charging: a special Kona Electric fleet (Kona Electric to Kona Electric) fitted with a power converter. In Korea they call it ‘Mother Pig’ and there are many forms of such mobile battery charging, such as minivans or trucks, which help out stalled EVs. Yong-Seok Kim, Head of Team – Eco-technology System and Development, R&D Division, Hyundai Motor Group, discusses more in this interview.

What has the response to Kona Electric been worldwide?

In the global market, we sold over 45,000 units of Kona Electric till last month. We have received good feedback from countries such as Norway, South Korea and parts of Europe. Some customers were surprised to know that the real driving range of the vehicle was more than that of the certification range number (under test conditions).

In India, Hyundai has launched the 39.2KWh Kona Electric, which is almost half of the power available in most other markets. Yet, it promises a 452 km range. Could you elaborate?

It is because of the different test modes in various countries. India, too, has a different driving certification. Our whole engineering team was surprised to hear that. We did a test run and got around 460 km range in one charge.

Actually, there are two different driving tests — the Worldwide Harmonised Light Duty Driving Test Procedure (WLTP) and the Modified Indian Driving Cycle (MIDC). The Indian test conditions have an easy driving cycle while the WLTP tests done globally are close to real life conditions. India’s weather is also generally on the hotter side which means that the batteries do not drain quickly and helps gain more range.

Hyundai is also providing vehicle-to-vehicle fast charging in cases of emergency. How did this idea germinate?

Generally, EVs cannot charge vehicle-to-vehicle but we developed our own equipment to recharge a car. Hyundai was the first to come out such an idea and now others, too, are adopting that.

Calculating the distance of how far a charging station is, the charging vehicle charges the amount required to reach there (for instance 50 km). In India, we have tied up with MapMyIndia, to display Kona Electric compatible EV charging stations on the Hyundai Motor India website and mobile app. In Korea, we have three kinds of such service vehicles – Ioniq Electric, Kona Electric with 64KWh, and a big van with multiple batteries that we call ‘Mother Pig’ to supply electricity to the stalled vehicle.

The lifecycle of such a battery is 10 years or thereabouts. Do the batteries then head out for industrial applications thereafter, a move that could be environmentally hazardous?

We do not do that and maintain as we control the battery lifecycle…it will be zero per cent. We have over 10 years of experience in working on more than a million batteries to control their electricity. In case of lithium-ion batteries, many think it means we have to throw them out but we cannot. For example, in the case of Kona Electric, it is impossible for the whole energy to be exhausted.

What kind of research are you doing to further upgrade your batteries?

As top priority, we are trying to cut the cost of the lithium-ion battery. All over the world, there is research around the battery, but they are not thinking to reduce its cost for mass production.

Do you think battery swapping will be a solution for EVs in future?

It will not be possible. There are many companies who tried (including some in China), but they all failed. It is not technical problems, but the question of ‘who will own the battery?’, so making such models is difficult. It cannot be adopted for ‘real cars’. There are a lot of safety issues for such models.

Hyundai is also testing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles with one (Nexo) already running on Korean roads. Would you consider such vehicles for India, too?

Before we prepare for using fuel-cell vehicles in India, the first thing to do is ready the infrastructure for them. Perhaps next year we will set up some charging stations to carry out tests in our endeavour to produce pure eco-friendly vehicles.

Published on July 11, 2019
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