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Goodbye Lithium, Hello Sodium: JAC Unveils Milestone Battery Technology in New EV

JAC Motors, in partnership with Volkswagen, is making an ambitious leap into the electric vehicle market with a sodium-ion battery-powered EV set for launch in January 2023

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Chinese automaker JAC Motors is set to launch the first mass-produced electric vehicle using sodium-ion battery technology. The new EV will be sold under JAC’s recently introduced Yiwei brand, with deliveries beginning in January 2023. While lithium-ion batteries currently dominate the EV market, sodium-ion technology offers some potential advantages. The lower cost and increased cold weather performance could help accelerate EV adoption, despite the lower energy density.

JAC has not yet confirmed if the new Yiwei EV will carry over the hatchback design and E10X name from the Sehol model it is based on. The Sehol E10X hatchback was announced earlier this year with an estimated 157 mile range from its 25 kWh sodium-ion battery. The use of sodium-ion represents a shift for JAC, which launched a separate Yiwei 3 model in June using lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. The company stated then that a sodium-ion variant would arrive later.

JAC assembles the new cylindrical sodium-ion cells from supplier HiNa Battery into a modular honeycomb battery pack design. This standardized structure, similar to those used by CATL and BYD, can improve stability and performance. As an emerging battery technology, sodium-ion still faces challenges matching the energy density and maturity of lithium-ion. But the greater abundance of sodium makes it appealing for scaling up EV production.

JAC’s ability to launch a sodium-ion EV is enabled by its backing from Volkswagen. The German automaker owns a 75% stake and management control of JAC, while the Chinese government owns the remaining 25%. This unlikely pairing gives JAC access to VW’s technical expertise in electrification. In return, VW gains a foothold in the rapidly growing Chinese EV market and supply chain. However, it remains to be seen whether other automakers will follow JAC’s lead in adopting sodium-ion batteries. The technology’s advantages for high volume manufacturing are clear, but the lower density could be a barrier in premium market segments.

To compete longer term, sodium-ion batteries will need to continue improving their energy density and reducing costs. The technology is still in the early stages compared to the decade of optimization lithium-ion has undergone. But by investing early, JAC and HiNa have a chance to refine sodium-ion specifically for auto applications. As manufacturing scales up, they can ride down the experience curve and make it increasingly competitive. For now, JAC is aiming its new EV at the mass market rather than high performance. This aligns with sodium-ion’s current sweet spot of affordability over maximizing range.

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