Converting your '68 XJ6 to an EV might be sacrilege, but it would be fun to keep a few Falcons, Morris Minors, Bonnevilles, etc., on the road
TAIPEI – Can you turn every car model into an EV?
The idea is simple and probably, eventually, lucrative. Yet, few companies have taken up the challenge. Every carmaker has gone out of its way to develop a totally new chassis and new power train for its EV. This is largely because that EV battery pack systems are too bulky to fit into an existing model. Whether building a passenger car, folk lift, a tractor, boat or bus, electrification requires a redesign of the entire vehicle system.
Or does it?
It does, it seems, until someone comes up with a modular EV battery system and powertrain that fits any available space in a vehicle model.
Just such a modular drivetrain system is one of the key technologies Xing Mobility (Taipei) has developed. At AutoTronics Taipei 2019 last week, to drive home that idea, Xing Mobility chose a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro and showed how it was able to turn it into an EV.
In the automotive sector, Taiwan consists of many small and medium-size suppliers of various auto parts and components. Sorely missing, though, are carmakers.
In this environment, Xing Mobility stands out, partly because it started out as an electric race car company. Directing a laser focus on EVs, the four-year old startup has designed its own carbon fiber safety chassis, battery pack modules and electric motors for its two supercars – Miss R (an on- and off-road super RV) and Miss E (a track EV -- the first electric prototype race car designed, engineered, and made in Taiwan).
Xing Mobility was co-founded in 2015 by an unlikely pair -- Royce YC Hong, a serial entrepreneur, industrial designer by training, born in Taiwan but educated in the United States, and Azizi Tucker, an American race car engineer who initially came to Taiwan looking for parts and components for Tesla. The two had a chance meeting when they were invited to speak at TEDxTaipei Talk in 2013. Cars became their bond. They both call themselves as “certified car nuts.”
From a race car to a road car design
Connecting the dots between a race car and a road car isn’t just a matter of “souping up” a stock model. In designing a race car, new technologies must be invented to make it faster, safer and more compact. Race cars have added new technologies that range from ABS and smart transmissions to active suspensions.
For electric race cars, advanced battery pack modules are also critical.
In a recent TEDxTaiwan talk, Hong mentioned Ray Harroun (January 12, 1879 – January 19, 1968), the American driver who won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Although it is not well known, Harroun is the guy who invented the rear-view mirror. He used it for his car in the Indy race. Citing Harroun’s insight that “seeing behind you gave you a genuine competitive advantage,” Hong stressed that technologies invented for race cars can’t be dismissed as specialized inventions.
Immersion cooling technology for battery packs
Xing Mobility didn’t come to the AutoTronics show to sell race cars, but to demonstrate how the company-designed modular drivetrain system can turn even a classic muscle car into a tame modern EV. The choice of the Chevy Camaro was obviously a marketing stunt to grab people’s attention, Hong acknowledged.
But the message is clear. Xing Mobility is boasting that it can help “empower every and any vehicle maker to go electric.” This is the company’s marketing tagline.
A key underlying technology for Xing’s modular drivetrain is the company’s “Immersion Cooled Modular Battery Pack System.”
Xing Mobility has figured out a way to completely immerse lithium-ion battery cells in a self-cooling, non-conductive engineered fluid called Novec, developed by 3M. The result of Xing Mobility’s cooling technology is “extremely high-power output and charge rates while remaining lightweight,” claimed the company.
A system that uses immersion cooling technology answers the thermal management challenges every EV faces. Xing Crossing explained that immersion cooling enabled the company to achieve extremely high battery performance, while significantly improving battery life and allowing for high speed charging.
There is also, noted Hong, a strong case for safety. Because the immersion cooling fluid is based on a waterless fire suppression solution, the battery pack comes with built-in fire resistance. It “immediately dissipates any heat arising from cell-to-cell thermal runaway or damage whether through defective cells or damage to the pack,” according to Xing Mobility.
This feature, in addition to proprietary operation algorithms built into the pack, facilitates safe installation and operating conditions for users of the battery system, the company said. “This safety feature is particularly appealing for small to medium sized companies and their customers who don’t necessarily have Tesla-sized budgets and resources to build safety systems into their lithium battery packs.”
Hong acknowledged that the idea for immersion cooling technology is not entirely new. It’s been used in cooling server boards for Google and Facebook data centers, for example. The technology is also exploited to cool CPUs and GPUs running bit coins and gaming. Xing Mobility, however, is the first to use 3M’s engineered fluid for EV batteries, Hong claimed.
Xing also designed its battery pack on a Lego-like micro-module that can be stacked and interlocked. This is significant because it allows battery pack modules to fit in any vehicle’s particular size and shape requirements.
Xing Mobility’s electrified Camaro has a battery pack of 106 modules (4452 Lithium-ion 18650 cells) that fits within the vehicle’s existing engine space. This did not require any modifications to the original bodywork of the 50-year-old Camaro.
Who will buy it?
While each passenger EV maker is designing its own battery packs, specialty vehicle manufacturers face a thornier problem, because they must deal with so many different shapes (i.e. boom trucks, concrete mixers and cranes) and applications. Hong said that these companies also want to go electric due to the growing demand on the market, operational costs and compliance reasons.
In fact, among the world’s motorized vehicles in 2014, two thirds were “specialty vehicles,” said Hong. Each model demands a lower volume, while asking for high mix of applications.
Hong acknowledged that immersion cooling technology makes Xing’s battery pack more expensive. The silver lining, said Hong, is that Xing Mobility offers battery pack modules compete with fully connected accessories and powertrain components. Its solution functions as a “a plug-and-play” or “drop-in” replacement for existing engines or powertrains, according to the startup.
The key to Xing Mobility’s offerings is that it provides “a whole kit,” said Hong. Battery packs come with connected accessories. They include built-in battery management systems and active safety systems, in addition to advanced cooling kits and power distribution technology. Xing Mobility also offers motors and adaptors for transmissions. This “enables vehicle makers with or without previous experience of EV systems to install and connect power in a matter of hours,” claimed the company.
Taiwan’s automotive industry hopes to build its future on EVs. At the opening ceremony of the auto parts & accessary show in Taipei, Winner Yu, Chairman of the Taiwan Autotronics Collaborative Alliance, declared, “Tesla is Taiwan’s important partner,” thus stressing that the region’s automotive supply chain is inspired by Tesla.
With no Taiwanese branded EVs available commercially, associating Taiwan with EV seems like a stretch. Yet, as Xing Mobility’s Tucker once said, don’t forget that EVs are leveling the playing field for many new carmakers who are 100 years behind conventional automakers like Mercedes Benz. Taiwan’s proudest advantage is an agile, flexible, exceptionally fast and hard-working supply chain network. Tucker said that 90 percent of parts and components used in Xing Mobility’s race car were sourced from a radius of 300 kilometers. “Taiwan offers the shortest distance from the concept to reality,” he noted.