Plug-In Along at TM4
By Bill Moore
Khalid Abdullah Al Bu Ainnain is the Chairman of Baynunah, the Abu Dhabi-based development group with interests ranging from hotel management to fashion design. Their latest venture is, quite frankly, electric... as in electric cars.
Mr. Ainnain's company has just placed what has to be the largest private order for electric cars in history, ordering 10,000 Cleanova EVs from Groupe Dassault's Société de Véhicules Electriques or SVE. EV World wanted to ask Mr. Ainnain about his plans for the vehicles and what factors went in to his decision to order them, but we've been unable to find any contact information, so if any of our Persian Gulf readers -- and we do have a quite a few, apparently -- can make an introduction, we'd love to interview him about this exciting program.
Gratefully, we do have contacts at one of the program's major suppliers, Quebec-based TM4, which began life as an electric hub motor developer back about the time EV World was just gaining traction, itself. Today, its President, Messr. Claude Dumas, oversees the company that is supplying the electric drive system for Cleanova's vehicles.
According to Dumas, TM4 and SVE began their dialog in 2003, which is now culminating in the "ramp up" to series production of two models of electric vehicles on two distinct platforms: a sedan and a van-type model based on the Renault Kangoo, both of which are powered by TM4 engineered and manufactured electric motors, the core features of which came from its original hub motor work. Because of a lack of industry interest back in 2001, the company shelved its wheel motor programs and began concentrating on more conventional applications of its intellectual property (IP); the following year beginning its walks with SVE. It is now expanding its horizons beyond electric vehicle motors and developing wind turbine generators from its core technology in the mid-range to 2.5-3MW class. Those generators will be one-quarter the weight of competing units.
The company has also worked with both Renault and Citroen on electric drives for concept cars, but nothing that appears for the moment to be destined for production. Not surprisingly, given the resurgence of interest in electric cars, Dumas told EV World that the company has been approached by "several OEM's that have a hub motor or wheel motor in their roadmap and are now much more interested than before..."
He explained that they are interested more in hybrid applications with the rear wheels electrified and a standard front wheel drive set up in the front.
Cleanova's Jewel System
The Cleanova vehicles offer two different drive systems, a 25kWh, electric-only system and a IC-engine assisted, range-extended hybrid, which utilizes what Dumas calls a "jewel" system. He explains that incorporated into the company's primary electric motor is a secondary generator system, which can recharge the batteries and provide power to the electric motor. Under certain conditions, this generator can also act as a secondary electric motor, so that the vehicle is being driving by all three systems: the primary electric motor, the generator/motor and the IC engine.
The original Cleanova I was a proof-of-concept vehicle built around a car supplied by one of Dassault's partners. The Cleanova II is the all-electric version, while the Cleanova III is the range-extended hybrid. Either drive system can be integrated into the Renault Scenic that SVE is targeting at fleet sales. Increasingly stringent EU regulations are gradually restricting non-electric delivery vehicles from congested urban centers, creating a ready market for the vehicle in Europe, and apparently in the Persian Gulf.
Dumas confirmed that the vehicles Baynunah is acquiring are the Cleanova vehicles. I also asked him about the decision by France's La Post postal service to convert its entire fleet of some 48,000 vehicles to electric. He said that he was aware that SVE is in active talks with the government, he wasn't aware which manufacturer would supply the vehicles, though he added that he "had every confidence" that SVE would win the contract. He also observed that he would gladly adapt the system he developed for Dassault to any North American manufacturer's platform, but that for it to make economic sense, it needs to be done in runs of at least 20,000 to 25,000 vehicle units.
When asked whether or not EVs had reached the point where government incentives were not longer needed, he replied no and the reason has to do with the cost of advanced lithium ion batteries. They are still too expensive at the moment to be economically competitive with the IC engine that is manufactured in the 100,000s and whose cost have been largely amortized decades ago.
The batteries in the Cleanova vehicle will come from the Johnson Controls/Saft joint venture, JCS, the CEO of which spoke last week at the GM Battery Briefing.
TM4's largest share holder is HydroQuebec, with Groupe Dassault also being a minor shareholder. Messr. Dumas did acknowledge that once the company "had a significant story to tell" in terms of production and revenue, that the company would explore going public, but not before.
As for the performance of the vehicles, in EV-only mode the cars have a range of between 140-240 km (87-150mi). Dumas explained that the 240km reflects in-town driving that makes maximum use of regenerative braking, while the 140 is steady freeway/motorway driving. The range-extended model will see driving ranges upwards of 500 km. Full recharge of the vehicle using 240-volt European currents is about 6 hours, but it can be recharged up to 70% SOC in just a hour.
To listen to the entire 33-minute interview, use either of the two MP3 players above or download the file to your computer hard drive for transfer and playback on your favor MP3 device. The download URL is: http://www.evworld.com/evworld_audio/claude_dumas.mp3.