France has been a leader in vehicle powertrain innovation for decades, especially in the area of diesel and hybrid technologies. As the global automotive industry pivots to battery-electric vehicles, the French government and industry have been collaborating to encourage new startup companies to answer surging demand for everything electric.
Earlier this year, France’s seven best EV startups for 2020 were picked by a panel of experts and have been on a virtual tour of Silicon Valley and Detroit for the past several weeks pitching their ideas for an electrified future. Their last stop was the recent Wards Intelligence Focus: Electrification conference. They unpacked a lot of fresh ideas before they left, including:
- A low-cost means of adding 200 miles (322 km) of extra range for occasional trips (EP Tender).
- A stir welding head unit that attaches to conventional CNC machines instead of robots, making fabricating aluminum body parts less expensive (StirWeld).
- Connected, $600 EV charging stations that can be placed just about anywhere, booked like an Airbnb, and used as profit centers for small businesses and large (WattPark).
- A materials science company that transforms all types of wood into high-performance smart materials with touch-sensitive surfaces ideal for next-generation EVs (Woodoo).
- Advanced testing equipment for EV motors and batteries (DAM Group).
- Innovative simulation and testing systems for EV thermal systems (Sherpa Engineering).
- An all-new testing platform for batteries, electric motors and power electronics (Serma Energy).
The Ubimobility-EV tech tour, now in its second year, is the brainchild of Business France, the country’s economic development agency. The delegation of seven startups met with about 20 major players in the electric vehicle industry in the U.S., including automakers, equipment manufacturers, venture capital companies and research centers as part of a 9-month development program combined with the 2-week immersion in key automotive and tech ecosystems in the U.S.
The new EV initiative complements France’s well-established Ubimobility support program dedicated to autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. That program has helped launch 40 French companies specializing in the smart and connected automobile sector.
Alumni of this exclusive club include autonomous-shuttle company Navya, automotive handwriting recognition expert MyScript and car-sharing expert VULOG.
The EV acceleration program, organized in partnership with Avere-France, an association for the development of electric mobility and the Mov'eo competitiveness cluster, aims to help selected companies develop a foothold in the U.S. market.
The seven companies in this year’s program are:
EP Tender https://eptender.com/ The range of most affordable EVs can easily handle even long daily commutes, but trips of 300 miles (483 km) or more can mean long delays at charging stations or require renting an ICE-powered vehicle. EP Tender has a better idea: a battery trailer that adds 200 miles (322 km) of highway range in less than two minutes. CEO Jean-Baptiste Segard says the EP Tender is a smart trailer for EVs that is rented on demand and attached to EVs for long-distance trips. The trailers are stored in dedicated lots and automatically link up and detach from host vehicles. They also steer themselves when backing up for a seamless user experience.
StirWeld https://stirweld.com/ CEO Laurent Dubourg says StirWeld’s goal is to democratize expensive friction stir welding (FSW) technology by dramatically reducing the investment cost by offering a catalog of high-quality and low-cost FSW tools and the support of its experts throughout the client’s manufacturing ramp-up. StirWeld’s technology is particularly suited to weld heat sinks and cold plates to aluminum casings used in EV electronics and batteries. Dubourg says the key user benefit is StirWeld’s head unit attaches to conventional CNC machine tools rather than expensive robots. That creates cost reductions of up to 50% along with mass savings of 10% to 30% compared with similar aluminum parts and the ability to create new part designs that improve product quality in terms of resistance and tightness.
WattPark https://www.wattpark.eu/ calls itself “the Airbnb of vehicle charging.” It offers a low-cost way to share and monetize EV charging. With millions of EVs coming to market in the next few years, an efficient charging infrastructure is crucial, but WattPark CTO Marc Lepage says it doesn’t have to be expensive. For a one-time installation fee of $600, each user can have a small, easy-to-install charging system that is perfect for small neighborhood businesses and private homes creating tens of thousands of convenient charging points. With this strategy, charging points of 3.5 kWh to 7 kWh can be installed almost anywhere and meet 80% of charging needs, according to the latest forecasts.
Woodoo https://www.woodoo.com/ transforms all types of wood into high-performance, ground-breaking smart materials with touch-sensitive surfaces and high-performance structures that are ideal for next-generation EVs. Woodoo is a material science company with a patented technology born from five years of research in cellulosic nanotechnology. Serge Mouangue, SVP of development, says the company has developed a technical process to remove the weak lignin parts of a wood board’s matrix and replace them with a recycled custom polymer. The result is a sustainable material with the strength of metal and the cost of low-grade wood, Mouangue says.
DAM Group https://www.dactem.com/fr/ has a wide range of skills that gives the group a global vision of the automotive industry. Sales Manager Stephane Pfeffer says these include electronics, software, hydraulics, mechanics, automation and robotics. Their fields of expertise include: Factory 4.0, Industrial Intelligence, special machines, test benches, assembly, software development and electronics development. They also have in-depth knowledge of the electric vehicle to test E motors, batteries, fuel cells, hydraulic control modules, solenoids, bipolar plates and sensors.
Sherpa Engineering https://www.sherpa-eng.com/en/ specializes in numerical modeling studies of physical systems and their control. International Director Guillaume Bruniquel says the company has developed software tools and simulators that represent the thermal systems of EVs. The simulators vary, but a generic example proposes a standard modern thermal system equipped with a heat pump and water loops that distribute cooling and heating energy to the systems requesting them, such as the vehicle cabin, battery and electric/electronic devices. A representation of thermal comfort in the cabin is based on moist air calculations using the Fanger model for thermal comfort, a model used worldwide to assess thermal comfort.
Serma Energy https://www.serma.com/en/ was created in 2018 to support the growth of the worldwide EV market. Sales Engineer Tenzing Truilhe says the company is dedicated to supporting the development and certification of electric power systems and it uses an all-new testing platform for batteries, electric motors and power electronics testing with advanced technology capabilities and large capacities.