Henrik Fisker has been sketching out big plans—well beyond cars—for the solid-state battery technology being developed by a Fisker Inc. team. And now it appears that the heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar has given it some vote of confidence.
On Oct. 22, both companies announced that a Caterpillar-owned venture group invested in the nascent automaker's battery tech. The amount of the investment wasn't made public.
Fisker originally intended to launch his flagship car, the EMotion, with LG Chem lithium-ion batteries when it’s due in 2020, he said. But more recently Fisker has said that it will arrive with the solid-state tech, although it's not clear if that will happen before 2020. Fisker also is supposedly working on a $40,000 electric crossover that could also have the tech, and in the nearer term, an autonomous electric shuttle called the Orbit.
The development of Fisker’s battery technology is being led by Fabio Albano, formerly of Sakti3, a solid-state pioneer that had been bought by Dyson. Since then, Dyson has abandoned the company’s technology and is reportedly going another route for its electric cars. The first of those due in 2021 won’t include solid-state tech.
Earlier at this year’s giant CES electronics and tech show, which has become increasingly mobility-oriented, Fisker showed what was supposedly a development version of the technology in a laptop form factor.
Fisker’s solid-state approach helps overcome the manufacturing and packaging hurdles by increasing the surface area and being somewhat flexible—waffle-like, rather than a rigid block. As such, he claims it can be manufactured without a clean room and could potentially cost less to make than existing lithium-ion cells.
Fisker, a designer, has a history of being strong on ambition and brimming with ideas but coming up short on lasting, viable business models—and, some might say, the product execution. Case in point: the Fisker Karma, which lives on as the Karma Revero.
Solid-state batteries promise a number of advantages over now-conventional polymer/gel lithium-ion chemistries, but most major automakers aren’t seeing them becoming part of the electric-vehicle mix so soon, even in a minor way, until well into the next decade.
Volkswagen, with its own solid-state partner QuantumScape, recently said that isn’t planning for solid-state to become a minor portion of the electric-vehicle mix until 2025, and it doesn’t think the technology will see even modest test-fleet pilot programs until at least 2023.
That closely matches what other major automakers have said. But if Fisker Inc. can prove its technology and manufacture it in volume, in a timeline that’s shifted so far ahead, others may come knocking soon.