The Volkswagen Power Day revealed important parts of the company’s electric cars strategies, but not all the details we wanted. Its unified cell looks like a prismatic battery, but is it all there is about it? The company will have six gigafactories in Europe, but what about the US and China? Is it really developing a high-manganese cell? We asked the company these questions, and here are the answers.
Sadly, the company is unwilling to reveal much more than it already released at the Volkswagen Power Day. One big example of that is that it refused to tell us where the batteries for Chattanooga and Chinese plants producing MEB vehicles will come from. According to Volkswagen, its focus is on Europe right now.
Volkswagen's reasons not to announce its plans for the biggest car markets in the world are a mystery, but we can think about some. The American and Chinese markets already have Tesla Gigafactories, and Giga Grünheide is currently facing issues. Volkswagen could be focusing on its home market to ensure it has a more extensive presence there before it tries to compete with Tesla in places in which it is already strong.
Another reason for Volkswagen to focus on Europe could be that the US and China already have strong suppliers to provide the batteries it will need. Announcing gigafactories in these markets could shake its relationship with the same suppliers, some of which were already unhappy to learn about the unified cell through the press.
Speaking of which, the unified cell will really be prismatic. According to Volkswagen, it will be developed with the company’s suppliers. Mentioning them at this point tastes like damage control. If the unified cell was just a prismatic format, why didn’t Volkswagen involve the suppliers from the get-go?
Prismatic cells will certainly help Volkswagen achieve CTP (cell-to-pack) battery packs with any chemistry, but it is difficult to believe that’s the only advantage they can offer. For now, the company’s statements made it seem that there’s nothing special about them apart from the variable cell chemistry they will present.
One of these chemistries called our attention for going in a different direction than that most of the competitors are following. Instead of having a high-nickel cell, Volkswagen will pursue high-manganese. Caspar Rawles, head of price assessment at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, said these cells present some issues, such as low cycle life and not having high energy density.
For Volkswagen, high-manganese “represents the optimum cost-benefit ratio.” The company also reiterated that its development is “towards market readiness in the volume segment, but it is not clear if development is still ongoing or already concluded.
In his presentation, Frank Blome said manganese is much cheaper than nickel, hence the focus on this chemistry. It would also offer as much range as NMC cells. Although the goal here seems to be getting rid of cobalt, some rumors were that Volkswagen did not achieve the same energy density Tesla got with its high-nickel cells, which would demand more nickel for the same goals. Volkswagen said it would not “offer comments on that.”