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Lotus' Project BattCon uses converted shipping containers as mobile battery testing labs

Throughout its life, other car companies have flocked to Lotus Engineering to improve their own products. As the Hethel-based company reinvents itself as an EV and battery tech specialist, Project BattCon is its latest bid to bring its expertise to the booming EV sector.

Project BattCon is almost comically 'Lotus' – embodying the old 'simplify and add lightness' mantra – as rather than building a large, centralised testing facility, Lotus has packed an entire testing facility into a portable, standard 40ft shipping container. And as you may have worked out, Battery Containerised Test Facility is where the BattCon name comes from.

Within the BattCon facility, Lotus Engineering will be able to carry out various cell, module and pack characterisation tests, performance evaluation, as well as component and lifetime testing under controlled conditions. The capabilities include both early feasibility as well as validation of late-stage designs which are nearing implementation in production cars.

As with its historical projects, Lotus isn't just offering the BattCon facilities themselves; its engineering expertise will be available to customers, many of which will inevitably be smaller companies, start-ups and low-volume manufacturers of EVs and EV tech. By using BattCon, such companies will potentially save themselves significant sums in developing their own test facilities or in using high-cost, large-scale testing. 

At present, Lotus has containers located at its HQ in Hethel, Norfolk, and at the new Lotus Advanced Technology Centre in Wellesbourne, West Midlands. In future, the facilities will be able to be packed up and driven to wherever they are needed, and whilst it seems like a hair-brained project, it's worth remembering that Lotus isn't a newcomer to EVs; it was a crucial in creating Tesla's first EV – the 2008-2012 Roadster.

Matt Windle, Executive Director of Engineering at Lotus, said: “As the race intensifies for automotive and other sectors to develop new and novel battery technologies, there will be increased demand for suitable testing facilities. Project BattCon begins to address this problem by evaluating how Lotus Engineering can meet the battery testing opportunities for the UK supply chain and OEMs.”

Wider need for UK-based battery development

There are two massive factors in play which make a more robust battery and EV industry in the UK a necessity. The first is the recent pledge to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. The second is Brexit, with a 'no deal' exit leaving us on WTO trading terms and potentially adding an average of £2800 to the cost of a European-produced EV.

On that latter point, in a no deal scenario, it's not just whole vehicles that get clobbered. UK manufacturers could be stung on the import of components, lifting the price of even domestically-produced EVs. So, the UK needs projects like that from Lotus to ensure some form of long-term manufacturing independence.

In the ten point plan, revealed alongside the 2030 ban in new petrol and diesel sales, point four specifically aims to bolster the domestic EV market, stating: “Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles”.

It doesn't drill into any detail, but you can bet that the government is acutely aware of how threatened the domestic car manufacturing market is by Brexit. As such, it will need to invest big, as well as rely on the ingenuity of brands like Lotus, to avoid a disastrous exodus of manufacturing and skills.

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