Nissan Motor Co. is downplaying the potential of solid-state batteries, a hoped-for breakthrough technology in electric vehicles.
A senior Nissan technology executive called solid-state batteries’ level of development “practically a zero” and warned that they face many hurdles before they begin powering EVs.
In doing so, Japan’s No. 2 automaker is setting itself apart from rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen Group on battery technology as the three giants heat up their EV plans.
Toyota and VW have been touting solid-state batteries.
Takao Asami, Nissan’s senior vice president for research and advanced engineering, said he doesn’t expect solid-state technology to be ready for serious deployment before the middle of the next decade. Among the obstacles are cost and manufacturing acumen, he said.
“All solid-state batteries, roughly speaking, are still in the initial phase of research. So according to my feeling, it’s practically a zero at this stage,” Asami said at Nissan’s world headquarters here south of Tokyo.
Solid-state batteries would replace the liquid electrolyte used in lithium ion batteries with a solid substance that allows for improved energy density, weight, safety and charging time.
“It’s working in the lab,” Asami conceded. “But if we make it bigger and put it in a vehicle, drive for several kilometers and ensure safety and cost performance, compared to a lithium ion battery, we don’t have a comparable scenario yet.
“We still need several breakthroughs.”
Nissan’s caution comes as competitors increasingly promote solid-state’s promise. Toyota has been uncharacteristically bullish in its outlook, saying it wants to commercialize next-generation solid-state batteries in the early 2020s.
Speaking on the subject in October, Toyota Executive Vice President Didier Leroy said, “We believe our solid-state battery technology can be a game changer with the potential to dramatically improve driving range.”
Nissan sees more immediate payback from improving existing lithium ion technology.
“There’s still big room for the improvement of the current technology of lithium ion batteries. We have not reached the ultimate lithium ion battery generation yet,” Asami said.
“We have a goal for two more generations or so.”
Nissan expects EVs to reach cost parity with conventional gasoline vehicles in the mid-2020s, Chief Planning Officer Philippe Klein said separately.
EV costs are rapidly falling, thanks to better power density in batteries and bigger economies of scale. Meanwhile, conventional powertrain costs are increasing as carmakers resort to more sophisticated technologies to meet more stringent emissions regulations.
“Our forecast is that those two lines will cross around the middle of the next decade,” Klein said.
Nissan plans to launch eight new EVs, and to hit annual sales of 1 million electrified vehicles by 2022.
The company also said it will bring 20 models with autonomous driving technology to 20 markets by then, and reach 100 percent connectivity in all new Nissan and Infiniti models.
The new targets flesh out the company’s M.O.V.E. to 2022 midterm plan unveiled by CEO Hiroto Saikawa last fall to guide the company through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023.
Nissan’s growth strategy focuses on heavy investment in three pillars: electrification, autonomous driving and connectivity. Bold electrification goals account for the bulk of the new targets, as Nissan steps up its response to an onslaught of new electrified entrants.
Nissan’s sales goal of 1 million electrified vehicles includes full electrics and hybrids. The tally will get a boost from the broad introduction of e-Power, a range-extender hybrid system that Nissan sells in Japan and plans to bring to other markets.
Sales of vehicles with e-Power will account for more than half the total, Klein said.
Infiniti will get its first EV in 2021, and about half of the luxury brand’s sales will be full electric or e-Power by 2025, the company said.
Electrification is expected to blossom quickly in Japan and Europe, and more slowly in the U.S. and China. But it is expected to account for a much bigger slice of sales everywhere. In Japan and Europe, electrified vehicles are expected to account for up to half of Nissan’s sales by 2025; in the U.S., between 20 and 30 percent; and in China, between 35 and 40 percent.
The eight new EVs will come on top of Nissan’s current offerings, the Leaf and e-NV200 van.
One will be an all-electric crossover based on the IMx concept vehicle shown at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show. It will be a global vehicle and get autonomous driving technology.