Magna the Canadian car parts tier one is proving to be as innovative in the field of electric vehicles (EV) as they are in the conventional auto industry. Indeed so enthusiastically is the soon to be retiring founder of Magna, Frank Stronach about the new technology that he is forming a new JV between himself with 27% and Magna holding 73% in a new EV vehicles project according to a just-auto.com article. Magna has been developing EV power-train technology for the last three years, partly drawing on technology developed in the 1990’s by GM in the development of their EV1 and partly in cooperation with Ford to provide the power-train components for the EV Ford Focus due out in 2011. According to a Wards Auto article, Magna worked with Ford to co-develop the Focus’ electric drive-train. In addition to providing the software and programming, Magna is supplying the power-train module, gearbox, electronics and some chassis components, as well as performing key design-integration work.
Stronach’s vision is for Magna to be a Tier 0.5 if such a thing is possible, designing and building a rolling chassis complete with all the drive and power train components for either the OEM to finish with body shell and interior or for Magna to do it for them. In so doing Magna can develop economies of scale across multiple OEM models based on their one rolling EV chassis design and greatly reduce the risk, barriers to entry and cost for large and small OEM’s wanting to get into the electric vehicle market. Stronach thinks this business will be worth US$20bn to the Magna JV within 10 years. When you look at Ford’s planned sales of just 5,000-10,000 vehicles per annum the economies of scale are not going to be there unless a sharing of platforms can be achieved in a manner like that planned by Magna.
Ted Robertson, Magna VP new product development and chief technical officer is quoted as saying Ford has no exclusive rights over the design and indeed are keen for Magna to develop further sales elsewhere in the interests of bringing down unit costs. When Magna started they thought they could largely take components from the shelf but found they were just not available, “we had to design everything from scratch he said. But he was also full of praise for GM’s EV1 development in the 1990’s saying it was a marvelous piece of engineering and Magna found many of the challenges had already been solved by the GM team. Magna has not decided if they will go into battery production or not. They have partnered with KoKam of Korea for the Ford Focus and developed a fast charging technology that can be fully replenished in 20 minutes, compared with 4-6 hours using a 220-volt line and 10-12 hours using a 110-volt feed.
It would seem the 77 year old Mr. Stronach has lost nothing of his passion, vision or audacity in the 50+ years since he formed Magna as a struggling immigrant. His latest venture will no doubt continue to set standards for innovation that others will struggle to match. Whether it will create greater certainty for the viability of electric vehicles remains to be seen but it has a logic to it that is compelling.