The Day Toshiba’s EV Bus Battery Shatters Chinese and Korean Dominance (with video)

A start-up in Kitakyushu City will launch an electric vehicle (EV) bus powered by Toshiba’s new lithium-ion battery later this year.

By Takashi Nagai

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EV minibus commercialized by EV Motors Japan of Kitakyushu City

A start-up in Kitakyushu City will launch an electric vehicle (EV) bus powered by Toshiba’s new lithium-ion battery later this year.

Hardly Degrades After 20,000 Charging/Discharging Cycles

Although with small capacity, Toshiba’s new battery has low risk of catching fire from external pressure such as accidents, and “can travel 50 kilometers with five minutes of charging.” What’s more, it is highly durable, with no degradation even after 20,000 charging/discharging cycles. 

In the automotive battery market, the four companies, Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) and BYD of China and LG Chem and Samsung SDI of Korea, have an overwhelming presence with 60% of the global share.

But now, the new batteries manufactured in Japan may beat Chinese and Korean rivals, with their advantages in durability, safety, and life cycle cost (LLC), which is the total cost of the product from manufacturing to disposal. 

EV Bus Batteries Withstand the Cold in Scandinavia and Russia

Toshiba’s lithium-ion batteries are already in use on EV buses in extremely cold regions such as Scandinavia and Russia. Since the battery is a good match with EV buses and shared cars that frequently repeat charging/discharging cycles, Toshiba further developed this battery, and promoted its use on EV buses that will operate on full-scale in Japan.  

Fabless Start-up in Kikakyushu Picks Toshiba’s Battery

Later this year, the EV start-up, EV Motors Japan (EVM, head office: Kitakyushu City), will commercialize an EV minibus powered by Toshiba batteries. As a fabless (manufacturing without factories) company, EVM provides buses, trucks, and EV charging facilities. 

The EV minibus they launched this year is a 29-seater. The price is around 20 million JPY, roughly the same as the J6 by BYD of China that costs 19.5 million JPY. EVM adopts the safety-enhanced lithium-ion battery that uses iron phosphate on the cathode, and they initially used batteries from China‘s CATL. For now, a Chinese manufacturer that also makes European cars does the final assembly.

The next minibus to be launched later this year will be powered by the new lithium-ion battery Toshiba developed, using niobium titanium oxide (NTO) as the anode material. This battery uses additives made from the rare metal niobium as the anode material.

Toshiba Batteries Proven on Suzuki’s Mild-Hybrid Car

Toshiba has been providing the SCiB lithium-ion battery that uses lithium titanium oxide (LTO) for the anode. Suzuki’s mild-hybrid cars such as Wagon R and Mitsubishi Motors’ EVs such as i-MiEV have used the battery.  

“SCiB won’t catch fire even if you drive a nail in it,” says a Suzuki executive. In fact, Suzuki had been using batteries made by former Sanyo (now made by Panasonic) which are currently used by Toyota and others. But from a safety perspective, they switched to SCiB.

Toshiba Enhances Battery with Brazilian Rare Metal as Anode Material

NTO has roughly three times higher theoretical volume capacity density than LTO and realized long life and rapid charging. EVM plans to make the vehicle body more compact than the current bus, but with a higher battery cost, the vehicle price will be more expensive.    

Niobium, the raw material of NTO, is well-known as the additive for the thin, light, and strong high-tensile steel. For use as anode of lithium-ion batteries, the niobium does not need to be so pure as for high-tensile steel, and there are currently enough proved reserves for 200 years.

Brazil’s CBMM supplies 80% of the world’s niobium. Four companies, Nippon Steel Corporation, JFE Steel Corporation, Sojitz Corporation, and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), hold 10% of CBMM’s shares. 

Toshiba also has acquired over 80 patents on the niobium anode material.

Runs 50 km with Five Minutes of Charging—Ideal for Buses!

EVM President Hiroyuki Sato, who chose Toshiba batteries, explains the benefits of using Toshiba batteries: “Buses are usually used for 15 to 20 years. With an EV bus, you need to exchange the battery several times during that period. But with NTOs, you don’t need to change. So, it costs less in total.” He also says, “With five minutes of rapid charging, you can travel 50 kilometers,” and emphasizes they are a good match for route buses that can be charged at terminals.

By making use of the rapid-charging feature, it is possible to reduce the number of batteries and make the vehicle cheaper. EVM plans to expand their EV bus lineup by offering the current cheaper bus with CATL batteries along with the expensive but high-performance new bus with Toshiba’s latest batteries.

Around mid-2023, EVM will invest approximately 2 billion JPY in a final assembly factory in Kitakyushu City. With this factory complete, the company plans to have Japan-made EV buses operating at the Osaka Expo venue in 2025.

My Rides on Three Types of EV Buses

I have been on board three types of EV buses operating in Japan. One is the 29-seater J6 from BYD that Kuki City in Saitama Prefecture adopted as its community bus. Last November, I also rode on the self-driving EV bus manufactured by the French company NAVYA, when I covered Sakai Machi in Ibaraki Prefecture. The town is the first municipal in Japan to use self-driving EV buses for its community bus operation.

And this third time, I rode a 29-seater EV bus during the test-ride event held by EVM in Yokohama City.

Since it is fabless manufacturing, they outsource the final assembly to China, but the development and design is by Japanese capital. Maybe that is why there is a pursuit of innovation.

The EV buses from BYD, NAVYA, and EVM are all electric motor driven, so they run quietly. This time, I rode the bus in heavy rain for the first time, and especially felt the benefit of the EV that is powerful yet quiet.

For example, the EVM bus uses European fiber-reinforced plastic on the body to make it lighter. The driver said, “The vehicle weight is less than eight tons in this class.” (See video)

Driving Advantages of EV Bus over Gasoline Vehicles

EVs have superior motor capacity and acceleration. It moves forward in a powerful, smooth glide. The bus also incorporates the digital mirror system, which is useful on rainy days. Cameras mounted on the four corners of the bus lets the driver check the composite image on the monitors on both sides of the seat. This is certainly helpful for ensuring safety.

The four-wheel disk brake is also a driver-friendly feature. Like the J6 from BYD, the low center-of-gravity design provides a steady run with fewer jolts.

Everyone Wants to Buy Japanese EV Buses

This April, I visited Sakai Machi in Ibaraki Prefecture to cover self-driving EV buses used for their community bus operation. Mayor Masahiro Hashimoto told me, “We wanted to buy from Toyota, but they don’t have EV buses manufactured in Japan.”

As a means of transportation for aging residents, I felt there is a strong demand for EV buses that runs with zero exhaust gas and fewer jolts with the low-floor design. At last, EV buses powered with Japanese batteries will be on the roads.

(Takashi Nagai, journalist)

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