VW-Backed Company Rolls Out First EV with Sodium-Ion Battery

A new Chinese electric vehicle brand with Volkswagen’s backing has debuted the industry’s first sodium-ion battery-powered electric car. JAC Group’s Yiwei rolled out the new JAC Yiwei EV in late December. Yiwei was established in early 2023 under the JAC Group, and its parent company is jointly owned by the Chinese government and Volkswagen.

The German automaker bought a 50% stake in the JAC group for $1.09 billion and also assumed full control of its existing EV joint venture’s management with a 75% stake. Yiwei leveraged its backing from Volkswagen and the Chinese government to manufacture the first EV in the nascent electric vehicle industry to use cylindrical sodium-ion cells from Beijing-based tech firm HiNa Battery rather than the standard lithium-ion batteries.

Yiwei’s new EV will use UE modular tech from JAC that features a honeycomb structure. This is similar to the Blade battery, which was developed by BYD and is used to power Ford, Kia and Toyota EVs. JAC’s UE modular battery technology also shares similarities with cell-to-pack technology (CTP) from battery manufacturing giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL).

JAC first unveiled the Yiwei 3 in February 2023 at the Shangai Auto Show with an LFP battery but promised that upcoming versions would feature the sodium-ion battery. The Chinese automaker also introduced the Sehol E10X, a sodium-ion battery-powered hatchback EV with 120 Wh/kg of energy density, 25 kWh of capacity and the ability to charge from 10% to 80% in 20 minutes.

Volkswagen moved the Sehol brand to JAC in 2021, and JAC noted in 2023 that EVs in the brand would either wear the Yiwei or JAC badge. While the sodium-ion batteries powering Yiwei’s electric cars have less energy density compared to lithium-ion alternatives, they offer numerous other advantages. Sodium-ion batteries generally have longer lifespans, increased durability, faster charging speeds, better performance in low temperatures and are significantly more resistant to battery fires.

Furthermore, they require cheaper raw materials and are less costly to produce, directly translating into more affordable electric cars for the consumer. Yiwei Tech chairman Xia Shunli notes that sodium-ion batteries will be an important battery chemistry that could act as a low-cost solution and accelerate mass electric vehicle adoption.

The low-energy density of the batteries makes them relatively unsuitable for larger electric pickups and trucks, but they could be effective in lower-end, short-range EVs or for stationary power grid storage. Sodium-ion batteries could result in significant cost-savings for car manufacturers, and automakers such as Cenntro Electric Group Ltd. (NASDAQ: CENN) could take up this technology on a large scale once it proves itself in the field.

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