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CES 2021

LG, Panasonic and Sony step up EV efforts

Cost-efficient and eco-friendly parts and batteries showcased at CES

Sony has begun testing its Vision-S electric sedan on public roads in Austria. (Photo by Kosuke Shimizu)

TOKYO -- Asian companies highlighted their efforts to create cost-efficient and eco-friendly electric vehicle parts at CES, as the auto sector drew more notice at the world's biggest consumer electronics and technology expo this week.

"Our aim is to be one of the industry's leading suppliers of automotive components and solutions," said Brian Kwon, CEO of LG Electronics, at a Tuesday media event held by Canadian auto parts maker Magna International. Magna is setting up a joint venture with the South Korean company in July. 

"With the joint venture, we are well positioned to achieve this goal within the areas of electric and connected vehicles. The market for electric and clean-energy vehicles is projected to grow exponentially," Kwon said.

LG will spin off its automotive powertrain business into the joint venture, in which Magna will buy a 49% stake for $453 million. Nearly 1,000 LG employees will be transferred to the joint venture, headquartered in Incheon, South Korea, where LG's auto parts plant is located. 

The plan, which was announced in December, is to produce e-motors and inverters by combining LG's expertise in electrical components with Magna's automotive systems know-how.

Ron Frawley, senior director at Magna's powertrain group, said in a spotlight session that mass producing e-motors and inverters will help cut production costs, as the two components account for up to 70% of the cost of an electric-vehicle powertrain.

LG makes those key components, which are also found in its popular consumer products, such as washing machines and refrigerators, in-house. Motors and inverters underpin the competitiveness of its home appliances. The conglomerate aims to apply the same technology to the lucrative EV market, pulling the company's loss-making auto parts business into the black. 

The South Korean company joins a growing list of parts makers keen to enter or expand in the EV market, as traditional automakers begin electrifying their fleets in response to tighter regulations on gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Automakers launched 143 new electric models in 2019, including battery-powered cars and plug-in hybrids. They plan to introduce nearly 450 additional models by 2022, according to a report by McKinsey published last July. EV Sales in Europe are growing, propelled by the European Union's new emissions standard that took effect last year limiting emissions for new passenger cars to 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

At CES, which was held fully online for the first time in its 53-year history, U.S. automaker General Motors on Tuesday unveiled a plan to launch an all-electric van, the EV600, for a new commercial vehicle business unit by year's end. Its battery was jointly developed with another South Korean manufacturer, LG Chem.

Japan's Panasonic said its efforts to make cobalt-free EV batteries for partner Tesla would significantly reduce production costs for such batteries. Environmental concerns are another driver of its approach: It is working with recycling startup Redwood Materials to reuse valuable materials, including nickel and aluminum, to feed them back into production of new batteries. 

The process "reduces negative environmental impacts of batteries and reduces cost, which is fantastic," said Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America, at a session on Wednesday.

Sony, meanwhile, revealed that it has begun testing its Vision-S electric sedan on public roads in Austria after completing a prototype in December. The Japanese electronics conglomerate revealed plans for a car at last year's CES. The vehicle is equipped with two 200 kW electric motors and has level-two autonomous driving capabilities. Its EV platform was manufactured by Austrian carmaker Magna Steyr, while parts were supplied by Bosch of Germany and others.

The test drive was filmed using Sony's newly announced commercial drone, Airpeak. 

Additional reporting by Yifan Yu in Palo Alto, U.S.

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