Partnerships are key to future vehicles

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Partnerships are key to future vehicles

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Korean chemical and steel companies are forming partnerships with automakers to produce environment-friendly and lightweight vehicles.

The alliances aren’t entirely new but the level of technologies being exchanged has become more diverse and deep, according to industry sources.

“As technology gets increasingly complicated, automakers can’t manufacture cars on their own abilities alone,” said Lee Nam-seok, a business administration professor at Chung-Ang University. “That’s why we see lot of cooperation between companies in what seems to be very different fields.”

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Battery work

Earlier this month, Kia Motors and SK Innovation signed a comprehensive memorandum of understanding for the development of electric vehicles, or EVs.

Under the accord, the affiliate of SK Group will provide batteries to Kia’s RayEV, which was launched in December 2011, for the carmaker’s next generation of compact-size electric vehicle.

SK Innovation previously supplied lithium-ion batteries for vehicles made by Mitsubishi Fuso of Daimler Group and also for the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell electric super sports car.

This time, in addition to supplying batteries, SK Innovation will join the EV development with the car manufacturer.

“The partnership between the two companies that boast specialized capabilities in their respective fields will enable them to lead the electric vehicle market,” SK Innovation said in a statement.

On Tuesday last week, SK Innovation also agreed to set up a joint venture with German automotive parts supplier Continental.

“The cooperation of the two companies is a remarkable starting point to open a new horizon for future transport,” Chey Jae-won, executive vice chairman of SK Group, said. “The combination of SK’s battery cell know-how and Continental´s battery system know-how will yield the best solution for the operation of electric car batteries.”

LG Group got involved more deeply in the EV business when it signed an agreement with General Motors last August. Previously, LG Chem supplied batteries for GM’s Volts and Amperas, but the two sides agreed to expand and deepen the relationship by jointly designing and engineering EVs.

Other subsidiaries of LG Group will join the EV business. LG Electronics will work on air conditioning and ventilation systems, LG Innotek will collaborate on motors, LG CNS will work on the charging infrastructure, and V-ENS will work on car parts design.

Car makers say collaboration is important for the future.

When GM signed its agreement with LG, it described the deal as a “win-win,” while the nation’s No. 2 automaker Kia said the recent alliance with SK Innovation boosts its position in the EV market.

“Under the strategic partnership, we will strengthen technical innovation and marketing activities in the field,” Kia Chief Executive Officer Lee Sam-woong said during the MOU signing event on July 11.

Shedding pounds

Carmakers are also looking to other companies to help them keep the pounds off new vehicles to enhance fuel efficiency. According to car experts, a 10 percent drop in the weight of a vehicle can improve fuel efficiency by 3 percent and acceleration performance by 8 percent.

Last December, GM signed an agreement with Japanese textile company Teijin to codevelop carbon-fiber materials for automobile components. Earlier last year, Daimler agreed with Japanese carbon-fiber producer Toray to establish a joint venture for manufacturing and marketing carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) automobile parts.

The carbon-fiber parts from the joint venture will first be used in upcoming models of Mercedes-Benz SL class sedans.

Among domestic car makers, Hyundai Motor has previously cooperated with chemical companies BASF and GE Plastic to release the concept car i-Flow in 2010 and QarmaQ in 2007.

The nation’s top automaker said that it still has much interest in making vehicles lighter. Hyundai’s Sonata uses clay nanocomposites on the edge of vehicles’ doors which are 20 percent lighter than rubber.

Last November, Posco signed a deal with French automaker Renault to codevelop lightweight auto parts made with magnesium. The nation’s largest steelmaker also signed a preliminary deal with a trading unit of Japan’s Toyota Group to cooperate on magnesium and other rare metal-related businesses.

Cheil Industries and Kolon Plastic have recently completed construction of new plants and are ready to supply more engineering plastics such as polycarbonates and polyoxymethylene.

“It is a global trend that automakers are willing to work with companies that are specialized in other fields when starting new projects,” Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University College, said. “The collaboration of two different companies in different industries can bring synergy in boosting the quality of future vehicles, but the role of each company in the development process should be set clearly to have the best result.”


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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