The German automotive industry is embracing lithium-ion battery technology at a critical time when carmakers are lining up to unroll futuristic technologies, conserve fuel and fulfil stricter emission regulations. Slow in warming up to hybrids that combine a conventional gas engine with an electric motor, companies including Daimler and suppliers such as Bosch preferred initially to tout their clean diesels and focused instead on boosting efficiency directly in the combustion chamber.
Now, Daimler is looking to use the billions piling up for possible acquisitions in fuel-saving technology, and Bosch is already looking to add lithium-ion automotive batteries to its sprawling portfolio of industrial holdings.
"The market for lithium-ion batteries has probably one of the biggest growth potentials in the future," Thomas Weber, Daimler's head of technology, said at the Geneva auto show.
Daimler plans to launch its flagship Mercedes S-Class luxury sedan as a mild hybrid in 2009 using a lithium-ion battery and in the same year roll out an M-Class full hybrid, capable of driving only on electricity under certain conditions, similar to the Toyota Prius 7203.T.
Apart from what could be extensive parts of its fleet using some form of lithium-ion hybridization -- as Mercedes seeks to reduce the pollution pumped out from its high-performance cars and SUVs -- Weber said he also could imagine lithium-ion cells replacing the classic starter battery.
"Lithium-ion batteries have five to seven times more energy density and save considerable space and weight, and when you think farther down the road it's conceivable in the long term that there may very well be only lithium-ion used in the start-stop, starter and the hybrid batteries," he continued.
Rival luxury carmaker BMW showed off in Geneva its Vision EfficientDynamics concept study based on its X5, which is equipped with a lithium-ion battery that allows the SUV to emit just 172 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre and comes complete with a solar cell roof.