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Intertek EV battery testing grows in China–its customers trust government support will continue

June 6, 2012

If you have a really big battery that you want to shake up in China, visit Intertek Group plc.’s Shanghai lab.  It has a custom-made shaker that measures 2.6 meters X 2.6 meters and can shake a 500kg battery, Jonny Dong, manager of Intertek’s reliability and material testing department in Shanghai, told me proudly.  I visited Intertek in Shanghai in April at the invitation of Eric Reyes, regional director of strategic development.

I am not normally that in to testing equipment. But hey, he invited me.  And it was interesting, full of complex machines to shake, bake, and otherwise torment batteries.   It also gave me some insight into why Chinese automakers are having trouble producing their own battery management systems.  And confirmed that despite a slow start, companies in China—be they automakers or suppliers—are convinced the government’s push to develop the EV sector is for real despite a slowish start. Unlike here in the U.S., where government support hinges on the results of the next presidential election.

Eric Reyes and Jonny Dong show off their huge battery shaker.

A warning:  This blog may read a bit like an endorsement.  I have no skin in this game. But I wanted to post a blog and Intertek did invite me to visit. I’m so easy.

Intertek, based in the U.K., certifies product safety and quality.  It can also help firms gain efficiencies and fix problems with products.  In the EV sector, its customers include all the major battery makers as well as some automobile manufacturers.  Intertek opened its China facility in 2007 to do reliability testing for automotive suppliers in vibrations, temperature, humidity and other adverse conditions.

It is in the midst of a multi-million dollar expansion in Shanghai.   Intertek has invested around $2.5 million to double its battery module testing capacity in China by the end of 2012. It will boost that amount in 2013 if the market warrants it.  “We see a majority of the key manufacturers — our customers– investing a great deal of resources in developing suppliers, R&D, and market awareness for EVs,” said Reyes.  “This tells us that it’s not only us that are investing in this.”

For now, government policy is the driving force behind its customers’ expansion in China, said Reyes.   The most recent target, announced by the central government in April, is for China to be producing and selling 500,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles by 2015, and 5 million by 2020.  “Everyone is in a big rush because of the 2015 deadline,” said Reyes.

Intertek has battery testing capability in the U.S.  Indeed, it is adding capacity there as well.   But the China market has enough potential that Intertek figures it needs to have testing and certification capability there.  Anyway, said Dong, batteries are too heavy to ship to the U.S. for testing. “Plus customers want to see the tests,” he added.

That big shaker may get some use soon because the government is focusing on bus fleets as a way to expand China’s number of electrified vehicles quickly.  In a recent policy announcement, the government emphasized expanding the number of hybrid buses and also speeding up the use of new energy fleet vehicles (which according the the Chinese government’s definition includes only BEVs, PHEVS, and FCVs) in the 25 pilot cities program.  China has identified 25 cities that will serve as tests for rapid expansion of NEV fleets.  That goes beyond buses and includes taxis and other fleet vehicles.

Things haven’t expanded so rapidly, however.  Beijing appears to be trying to give them a bit of a push.  But I don’t think things will speed up all that much.

Intertek also tests battery management systems, and three local manufacturers were having their battery management systems tested when I was there.  But China’s relative lack of experience in the automotive sector, plus the newness of the electric vehicle technology, makes it difficult for Chinese BMS companies to pass the tests, said Dong.     “The requirements are different from a cell phone or home appliance,” he said.   As Chinese’s erstwhile EV producers are discovering….

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