Today, electric mobility is an important topic, as it can reduce our CO2 emissions and counter the depletion of oil resources. However, electric vehicles were being developed as early as the late 19th century, before the combustion engine took over. In addition to mass market cars, they are already in use, and widespread, in our environment. Obviously, when we talk about electric vehicles, a key element is batteries. Saft is a major player in this sector. For more than twenty years, the company has been delivering lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for specialized hybrid and electric vehicles.
The first electric vehicles equipped by Saft, in 1919, were luggage trolleys for the company P.L.M. (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée). Since 1924, Saft has provided the manufacturers Krieger, Berliet, Renault, Laporte and Crochat with batteries for tractors, trucks, buses, vans and cars, both large and small.
The 1970s first oil crisis pushed Saft and its parent company, the Compagnie Générale d'Électricité (CGE), to refocus on the electric vehicle market. Together they designed an electric micro-car, an "Autoette", in the Marcoussis research laboratory. Saft also worked with Peugeot, firstly on an electric 205, then on other electric cars (106 and Citroen AX); they were proposed as self-service cars in the streets of La Rochelle from 1993-2000. During the same period, Saft worked on electric vehicles with Chrysler, while Saft America was awarded two research and development contracts by the American consortium USABC.
Saft boosted by lithium-ion
At the beginning of the 2000s, Saft began to develop Li-ion batteries under a joint venture with the American company Johnson Controls, to pool the expertise of both partners. In 2004, La Poste invested in an electric Renault Kangoo. Baptized "Cleanova La Poste" and fitted with Saft Li-ion batteries, it was tested in Paris and later in Bordeaux. In 2008, a factory was set up in Nersac, France, to produce Li-ion accumulators. It was the first industrial production line in the world for the mass manufacturing of Li-ion batteries for hybrid vehicles. Saft contributed its technologies based on nickel and Li-ion and Johnson Controls provided its know-how in systems integration. In particular, the two companies worked on hybrid prototypes for a Mercedes S class 400 and a BMW 7 Series. However, the two companies had strategies that were too different and the joint venture was not continued.
Today, the company continues to produce Li-ion batteries and equips various hybrid and electric vehicles, although these are not aimed for the mass market. Saft's batteries power all sorts of vehicles, both on-roads such as rubbish collection, cleaning or delivery trucks and off-roads for building sites (cranes), airports (tugs for maneuvering aircraft), as well as at port facilities.
Saft is also active in the field of public transport, notably with Volvo. Saft batteries equip the Volvo buses in Gothenburg (Sweden), Hamburg (Germany) and Differdange (Luxembourg). The performance of the latter is impressive: energy consumption reduced by 80 percent compared to diesel, silent propulsion, no emissions and batteries that can be recharged at the stations in three to six minutes.
Saft also takes a big interest in sports cars
Saft is also a specialist in Formula 1. From 2009, it has equipped racing cars with kinetic-energy recovery systems. It was thanks to this system that Kimi Raikkonen won the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2009, making the decisive overtaking maneuver merely by pressing a button! In 2014, the device gave way to the ERS, which recovers both thermal and kinetic energy, and provides the driver with an additional 160bhp (brake horsepower) for about 30 seconds per track circuit. Just what's needed to overtake rivals and spice up the race. Saft is also a player in the Andros Electric Trophy that, since 2007, sees electric racing cars compete each winter on ice-bound roads. Fun and games are guaranteed.
What’s next? In February 2018, Saft launched an alliance with other European industrial champions to develop the battery of the future. The program’s ambition is to provide Europe with new generation batteries for energy storage and other market segments like electro-mobility and specialty industries - based on a disruptive, solid-state technology by 2023. A subject to keep an eye on.
The framed picture had pride of place in the lobby of Saft's first factory in Romainville. The "Jamais contente" ("The Never Satisfied"), is an iconic car: it was the first electric vehicle to exceed 100 km/h - a record set on April 29, 1899 in Achères, France. It was driven by its designer, the Belgian engineer Camille Jenatzy, who developed an early interest in electric vehicles. "La Jamais contente" boasted two electric engines powered by Fulmen batteries, a brand that, like Saft, belonged to the CGE. The torpedo-shaped vehicle cut a fine figure. Despite this speed record, the electric cars were finally supplanted by the gasoline and diesel-powered cars at the turn of the 20th century.