Stellantis Goes All-In on EVs

The $35B investment through 2025 includes dedicated platforms, new battery and propulsion tech, a ‘secret’ hybrid – and the first production fuel-cell van.

Jeep envisions solar charging stations at off-road trailheads to support its transformation to plug-in products including the 2022 Grand Cherokee 4xe. (Stellantis)

Five months after the merger of auto giants FCA and PSA into Stellantis, the new Euro-American OEM unveiled on July 8 its strategy to attain global leadership in electrified vehicle (EV) development, technology, and sales within this decade. The company is committing more than €30 billion ($35.5B) through 2025 to vehicle, subsystems, software and tooling/plant development. In the process, it expects to outpace the industry by 30% in its total R&D spend and Capex versus revenues, according to CFO Richard Palmer, one of the Stellantis executives who spoke during the 3-hour online conference for media and analysts.

Included in Stellantis’ electrified-vehicle assault is a production hydrogen fuel cell commercial van to launch in late 2021. Suppliers Faurecia and Symbio will provide the system’s three 700-bar pressure tanks and fuel-cell stack, respectively. FCV assembly is at Opel Russelsheim. (Stellantis)

The ambitious plan includes development of four new dedicated, flexible EV platforms, each capacitized for up to 2 million units per year; three scalable electric-drive modules (EDM); one scalable power inverter, plus proprietary controls and hardware and software solutions for vehicle charging. The plan also includes five new battery ‘gigafactories’ capable of producing over 260 gigawatt-hours of cell energy, a comprehensive battery repair, reuse and recycling enterprise, and the establishment of at least two sources of secure, sustainable (geothermal brine) lithium supply.

Three lithium-based battery chemistries are cleared for production, including solid-state technology that will be ready by 2026, according to Jean Personnaz, head of electrified powertrain engineering. He said the engineering teams are targeting driving range of 300 to 500 miles (500-800 km) depending on vehicle, and fast charging capability of 20 miles/32 km of range per minute. Battery energy density of ~60 kWh/L is realistic, he said.

The plan is not only about BEVs. An advanced range-extender hybrid, known as the REPB (Range Extender Paradigm Breaker) is in development. Personnaz described it as ‘secret for now.’ His presentation indicated that the REPB is aimed at a new Ram midsized unibody pickup in the MY2024 timeframe. A hydrogen fuel cell-powered medium-commercial van based on the Peugeot Expert will enter production in late 2021, likely for European deployment first.

Cashing out of credits

Stellantis’ 14 vehicle brands will have 55 new electrified products (40 of them BEVs) in their collective global portfolio by 2025, noted CEO Carlos Tavares. By 2030, “no less than 80 percent” of product will be pure EVs, he asserted. For the U.S. in the same timeframe, more than 40% of the company’s vehicles will be battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell passenger cars and commercial vehicles, compared with 70% in Europe. A Ram 1500 battery-electric pickup is in the pipeline for MY2024, and Jeep will have a BEV in each of its models including Wrangler.

Executives hope that an upcoming hyper-electric Dodge capable of 0-60-mph acceleration in two seconds will help lure the profitable Hemi V8 musclecar customer base into the lithium-and-electrons realm. The all-in commitment to electrified product will enable Stellantis to “cash out” its need to purchase credits to offset its portfolio’s U.S. emissions by 2022, Palmer noted. “Our compliance will significantly improve in 2023,” he said.

“Yes, they’re late to EVs in the U.S. compared with their Detroit competitors, but in Europe Stellantis is second only to VW in EV sales,” observed mobility technology analyst Sam Abuelsamid, with Guidehouse Insights. “Generally, I’m optimistic about their plan; it’s solid. But it’s all about executing now. And it’s about partnerships – joint ventures and working with suppliers. And hedging bets on key areas such as how quickly battery cost reduction happens.”

The company expects the total cost of ownership of EVs to be equivalent to internal combustion engine vehicles by 2026, driven by a 40% reduction in battery cost, at the module level, that Personnaz said he expects to achieve a year earlier – with another 20% cost reduction coming by 2030.

Stellantis is aiming for best-in-class efficiency per km/mile of travel – 4.3 mi/kWh in the U.S.; under 12 kWh/100 km in Europe. The focus puts a premium on delivering more energy-efficient subsystems, as the top engineers stressed during their presentation. It’s “an area where a lot of the legacy automakers, particularly Tesla, have lagged with their EVs,” noted Abuelsamid. “If Stellantis can deliver more miles per kilowatt-hour than their competitors, they’ll have a new differentiator.”

Inside the scalable EDM

VP of Global Propulsion Michael ‘Micky’ Bly previously headed GM Europe’s powertrain engineering group and is a veteran of the pioneering Volt hybrid program. He also led electrification product management at American Axle & Manufacturing Co. (Stellantis)
Stellantis’ four new dedicated, flexible BEV platforms “will unlock new facets” for the automaker’s 14 brands, said chief engineering officer Harald Wester. (Stellantis)

The four dedicated BEV platforms, optimized around width and length, “will unlock new facets of our brands, taking their efficiency and performances to the next level,” promised chief engineering officer Harald Wester. The three STLA unibody platforms (pronounced “stella”) are sized small (A/B segment), medium (C), and large (C/D and D; 4.7 to 5.4 m long). STLA Frame is the sole body-on-frame architecture to serve Ram pickups and commercial vehicles – but not definitively Jeep Wrangler. Projected operating ranges are up to 500 km/300 mi (small); 700 km/440 mi (medium); 800 km/500 mi (large), and 800 km/500 mi for STLA Frame, Wester said.

Powertrain strategy is “centered around flexibility and modularity,” explained Micky Bly, VP and head of Stellantis’ Global Propulsion Systems. The latest EV drive technology, the company’s third generation, is “aimed at producing a scalable design that’s compact and has a high level of reuse.” The integrated 3-in-1 electric drive module (EDM) assembly is scalable from 70 kW to 330 kW.

The design is also optimized to provide flexibility in the drivelines to include front-, rear- and all-wheel-drive options, as well as Jeep’s patented electrified 4xe system. “We’ll utilize three different electric drive modules so we can go all the way from the STLA Small to the STLA Frame platform, covering all of our vehicles worldwide and sharing a high level of commonality – and optimizing the overall cost with efficiency.”

An important part of the propulsion strategy is developing one power inverter for all three EDMs. The inverter features a common microprocessor and in-house-developed proprietary controls and software. It’s designed to reduce cost and complexity for fast-to-market, he noted. “The inverter will run at 400V and 800V and has phase-current capability from 350A to 750A to deliver up to 350 kW of power,” explained Bly. Its “heart” is a selectable power device that is either silicon-based or silicon-carbide based, depending on application.

Bly claimed the new inverter will have “the most advanced wide-band semiconductors that are optimized to handle the electric loads, switching rates and other performance capabilities to best control energy consumption on the vehicle. This flexibility allows us to go from very cost-effective to extreme high-performance vehicles.”

EDM production will be regional. Europe will be supplied by NPE, Stellantis’ JV with Nidec. Production in North America and China will be both in Stellantis in-house facilities and at strategic partners. The solutions “will allow us to meet all customer expectations in a cost-effective way,” Bly said.

Battery chemistry logic

Stellantis’ two-lithium-chemistries battery strategy – one iron-manganese-based, the other a cobalt-free nickel manganese – is “based on two operating points with a high level of synergies in between,” explained Personnaz. The latter offers 20% lower cost at the pack level, with energy densities between 400-500 Wh/L. The other delivers high energy density, between 600 and 700 Wh/L. “We have one unique module-based design for all our battery platforms,” Personnaz noted. Pack installations are similar, and both are upgradable.

Stellantis’ battery partners include Automotive Cells Co. (ACC), a joint venture with Total Energies-Saft; BYD Co.; Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL); LG Energy Solution; Samsung SDI and SVolt. Battery packs are designed as “a very simple one-layer concept to be deployed on all platforms by 2024,” Personnaz noted. He added that advanced battery management design “enables us to push the depth-of-discharge limits and enhancing the voltage measurement accuracy. For a given embedded energy we increase the usable energy by 4 percent. We expect to be ahead of the [battery] race by 2024.”

It’s all quite a different approach from the days when FCA boss Sergio Marchione asked the public not to buy the electric Fiat 500e because, as he noted, “I lose $15,000 on each car.”