Fiat Chrysler Looks Outward For EV Technology

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Fiat Chrysler is in a bind. As the EV revolution gathers momentum, it has no ready answer for the coming transition. Auto manufacturers have nearly a century’s worth of experience at assembling cars. Many EV startups have developed sophisticated electric drivetrains with all the necessary battery management and cooling technology baked in, but haven’t a clue how to configure a factory or actually build automobiles. You see where this is going, right?

Chrysler 300 S
Image credit: Fiat Chrysler

The Verge reports that Fiat Chrysler is in discussions with two EV startups — Faraday Future and Seres, formerly known as SF Motors — both of which have struggled to build actual cars and bring them to market. Either or both could provide the electric vehicle powertrains that FCA refused to develop on its own.

Two months ago, FCA CEO Mike Manley told investors his company is willing to make cars powered by powertrains sourced from other companies. The pending merger with Peugeot may give it access to the technology behind the newly released 208e, but that won’t help much with larger vehicles like those sold under the Jeep brand.

Anonymous sources tell The Verge that Faraday Future has already retrofitted an existing FCA vehicle with one of its powertrains and that car is currently undergoing real-world testing. Many of the people responsible for that powertrain were involved in creating the powertrain for the ill fated General Motors EV-1.

John Schilling, Faraday Future’s director of communications, tells The Verge “[w]hile we haven’t ruled out the possibility of future joint ventures as well as potential partnerships with other OEMs, FF is heavily focused on the delivery of our FF91 in 2020. Beyond that, we cannot discuss future product plans nor any potential partnership at this time.” FCA declined comment.

Two current employees at Seres tell The Verge that it has installed its own electric powertrains in two FCA vehicles. In an email to its staff at the end of October obtained by The Verge, CEO James Taylor said his startup has “much work to do to convert this expression of interest into a volume production award, yet it reflects the OEM’s growing confidence in Seres’ capabilities, knowledge, strength, and the attractiveness of our product offering.” Taylor declined further comment.

Seres, which is owned by Chinese automaker Sokon, cancelled plans to begin selling a pair of electric SUVs in the US earlier this year and has laid off at least 90 employees. It says it is changing its focus to selling its powertrain technology to other companies. It recently signed a deal with Chinese automaker BYD to develop power electronics like motor controllers.

Fiat Chrysler is not the only company looking for help in bringing electric vehicles to market. Ford has invested $500 million in Rivian, an EV startup that has yet to produce a single vehicle but which could be the key to Ford getting an electric pickup truck on the road in the near future. There are also reports of an upcoming electric Lincoln SUV based on Rivian’s own R1S prototype. Furthermore, Ford is exploring the use of Volkswagen’s MEB electric car platform as the basis of future Ford branded vehicles.

As Elon Musk found out when it came time to get the Model 3 into production, taking thousands of parts and putting them all together to make an automobile is really hard to do. While many legacy automakers worry about becoming little more than assemblers of components from various suppliers in the future, looking outward for electric powertrain technology makes a lot of sense. Many companies like Faraday Future and Seres may never actually build automobiles of their own, but their technology could help mainstream companies like FCA stay relevant in a world where electric vehicles are about to become the norm.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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