Solid-state battery technology is widely expected to be the next big thing in the EV world, as it promises higher energy density, lower cost and more safety than current Li-ion designs.
However, Mercedes Chief Technology Officer Markus Schäfer recently voiced a contrarian view, saying that solid-state batteries “may not be necessary,” thanks to developments in lithium-ion-based battery tech.
Speaking to journalists at CES 2024, Schäfer said he doesn’t see that solid-state cells have “a major cost advantage or energy advantage” because “so many people have worked on the conventional cells, making them so much better.”
Schäfer sounded pessimistic that the cost of EVs in general would be dropping any time soon. “We know the electric drivetrain is still way more expensive than a combustion drivetrain. That’s a fact. We do our battery research; we have our labs. I don’t really see a game changer coming on cost production for batteries, not a significant one.”
Delivering a production battery that offers the desired energy density, cost and safety improvements is taking longer than many in the industry expected, Schäfer said. Meanwhile, lithium-ion battery development hasn’t been standing still.
“There were some very optimistic forecasts a while ago,” Schäfer said. “It reminds me a little of forecasting autonomous driving. We invested in some cool startups here in the US and Korea in solid-state, and I’m watching the big names in this…but for me, it’s a head-to-head race now.”
Schäfer conceded that solid-state batteries will have a safety advantage, but noted that battery makers have been making safety improvements to Li-ion battery packs, which increasingly feature impact protection and other safeguards to avoid damage that can cause fires.