Boston Power CEO Says Saab EV Program Full Steam Ahead

Posted on 02. Feb, 2010 by in 2010-2019

Boston Power’s CEO, Christina Lampe-Onnerud was recently interviewed by Earth2Tech where she indicated that the electric vehicle partnership with Saab Automobile is “full steam ahead”.

The partnership with Boston Power was officially announced on December 11th, although we first heard about the early developments of the EV project this past June with a Swedish Company called Electro Engine.

The two companies as indicated, plan on initially developing 100 true electric Saab vehicles based on existing 9-3 platforms using specialized battery products in both a convertible and sedan model variant.

While it’s great to hear that the program continues, uninterrupted, it’s also quite exciting how thrilled she is with Spyker Cars coming in to buy Saab.

Here’s the story below:

The shaky status of Saab — the loss-making auto brand that General Motors threatened to shut down late last year before finally reaching a deal with specialty car maker Spyker — cast uncertainty around the first publicly announced demonstration of battery maker Boston-Power’s devices in plug-in vehicles. The dust has now started to settle, and Boston-Power CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud tells us the project is going “full steam ahead.”

Spyker, which agreed to pay GM at least $74 million in cash for the brand, released plans today to operate Saab as,”an independent performance-oriented niche car company with an industry-leading environmental strategy,” and announced the goal of making it profitable by 2012. Lampe-Onnerud told us in an interview yesterday that the Massachusetts-based startup now has “people deployed on the ground” in Sweden (she declined to specify how many), and Saab is still engaged in the project.

Heading into the Swedish EV project, Lampe-Onnerud said, “We knew there was some business risk.” But the potential gains and opportunity to learn about deploying its batteries — currently used as premium upgrade batteries for Hewlett-Packard laptops — in electric vehicles and figuring out “the ideal handshake” between the battery and the drive train, made the collaboration a “no brainer” for Boston-Power. She said the startup is “thrilled with Spyker coming in.”

Other partners in the EV coalition, which is receiving funding from the Swedish government, include electric powertrain developer Electroengine, project incubator and manager Innovatum Technology Park, and Swedish power industry trade group Power Circle. According to the coalition’s December 2009 announcement, the group has built a small number of demo models and plans to produce more than 100 vehicles in 2010.

According to Lampe-Onnerud, Boston-Power has other auto projects in the works. While the company is “trying to be very humble with our customers,” and let them make any announcements about planned plug-in vehicles and battery suppliers under consideration, Lampe-Onnerud said Boston-Power is involved with automakers that are testing vehicles at various scales and stages — from tens to thousands of cars per month. “This is not a real market, it’s an emerging market,” she said. “So every project is one-off.”

Despite the supply contracts automakers ranging from General Motors to Fisker Automotive have recently handed to LG Chem, A123Systems and other battery makers (and the battery ventures that companies like Nissan and Daimler have established) to support upcoming plug-in vehicle lineups, Lampe-Onnerud sees the very nascent electric vehicle market as still fairly open for battery makers. There’s a common perception that “all automotive companies have picked their batteries. Not in our experience,” she said. “Everybody will need multiple sources.”

There’s room for “large, competent battery players” that are “very likeminded” with legacy automakers, said Lampe-Onnerud, but also for “agile battery players able to respond” quickly to an evolving market. For now, low-volume projects are the name of the game for Boston-Power in the EV space. Running up against capacity constraints, Lampe-Onnerud said, “20,000 cars would sell out our capacity…We have to be careful in allocation of cells.”

For the foreseeable future, any expansion in production capacity will most likely take place overseas. After the Department of Energy denied Boston-Power’s request for $100 million to set up manufacturing operations in the U.S. last year, Lampe-Onnerud said, “We went right back to China.”

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7 Responses to “Boston Power CEO Says Saab EV Program Full Steam Ahead”

  1. Jeff

    03. Feb, 2010

    Maybe the agreement with Saab (clarity that it will not be shutting down) will allow battery production in Massachusetts (DOE loan) or at Innovatum in Trollhattan (Swedish gov’t loan).

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  2. Ted Y

    03. Feb, 2010

    This sounds very hopeful. Also risky, but it is only the risk takers who move technology forward, and hopefully profit from it. That last paragraph with “We went right back to China” after being denied assistance by the DOE bugs me. When is this government going to wake up and help our own struggling industries?

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  3. Ryan

    03. Feb, 2010

    Ted,

    Agreed, especially since DOE did choose to give GM money as cited here.

    The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding General Motors Co. a $7.7 million grant to accelerate development of four technologies to improve the fuel economy of light-duty vehicles by at least 25 percent while meeting strict future emissions standards.

    http://media.gm.com/content/media/us/en/news/news_detail.brand_gm.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2010/Jan/0111_powertrain

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  4. Jeff

    03. Feb, 2010

    Probably because the DOE thought Saab was going to be wound down. I think it gives more insight into the internal thinking of GM and the US gov about the future of Saab pre-sale. Not to mention much of the investment would be going to fund Swedish and not US protypes, even if the company is based in Boston.

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  5. Jasper

    03. Feb, 2010

    I think we will see SAAB-SPYKER collaborating in the future with: BAIC (based on their procurement of senior SAAB technology) and, AUDI (based on SPYKER’s track record, with AUDI0 (for engines)).

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  6. karen

    03. Feb, 2010

    Massachusetts is on the cutting edge of so many green technologies. Glad Saab-Spyker WANTS the Saab dealers here! Hope they also find a way to keep partnering with Sweden’s Cargine, who partners with West Springfield’s Scuderi on high efficiency internal combustion engines as well.

    I remember big DOE loans to Fisker (or other electric car maker?) to finance auto assembly in the U.S. Sounds like Lampe-Onerud wanted to do same for batteries. ah, politics!

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  7. Jeff

    04. Feb, 2010

    Jasper, one of the main points that Spyker wanted Saab for was its powertrain development and access. Before the deal was even announced, Spyker had mentioned that they were looking into using GM’s LS1 engine for use in the D8 Peking-to-Paris and possibly other models like the C8. So I think the era of VW group engines for Spyker is drawing to a close. They also were going into a partnership with Lotus, which is also in doubt now that they are working with Saab. What I do wonder is if they continue to work with Lotus and do some joint work between Lotus-Saab. That would be interesting.

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