Earlier in the month, we were lucky enough to get an inside look at Ford’s new Engineering Laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan, which now serves as the central hub for the automaker’s electrified drivetrain research and development.
At the same time, we were told of a new $9 million battery research laboratory built at the University of Michigan just 30 miles away in Ann Arbor, with financial support from Ford Motor Company. The lab will serve as a sort of pilot manufacturing facility, producing small, limited runs of experimental batteries for real-world testing and evaluation.
Of course, engineering tasks such as playing around with battery chemistry have typically been the domain of suppliers – not automakers. The folks at Green Car Reports point out that Tesla Motors’ partner Panasonic handled the battery chemistry for Model S sedan, and General Motors outsourced most of the Chevrolet Volt battery pack responsibilities to their partner, LG Chem. Typically, whatever input an automaker does have in such a partnership is limited in scope to cell structure and packaging.
All of this leads us to an interesting question: why is Ford Motor Company apparently keen to develop its own, unique battery chemistry? Previously, Ford Electrification Director Kevin Layden remarked that Ford had been “committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years,” and went on to say that the automaker thinks owning the intellectual property of battery chemistry will be important for future success.
But why? What does Ford feel it can accomplish with battery chemistry that suppliers like LG Chem and Panasonic have so far failed to deliver? We wish we knew the answer.