While the IONIQ 5’s looks promise a technical revolution, Rob Marshall finds it to be barely an evolution, although its battery pack is interesting for several reasons
With politicians piling on the pressure, it is clear that the rush to electrification is causing carmakers more than a few headaches. As if obtaining sufficient raw materials (let alone those mined sustainably and ethically) for mass-produced battery electric vehicles is not hard enough, manufacturers must boost range, reduce charging times and slash purchase prices, if EVs are to become more than a tax-cutting exercise for wealthy, virtue-signalling corporates.
Combining a wheelbase longer than a standard Range Rover with crisp retro styling, Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 may be ground-breaking for its maker but it achieves very modest progress in moving the overall EV game forward. Priced from £36,940, Hyundai is striving to reduce the upfront cost of EV ownership, so maybe that is the point. Or not. The starting RRP for an Ioniq 5 is still higher than that of the range-topping version of Mazda’s all-electric MX-30 SUV and the higher-specification versions nestle firmly in the Tesla Model 3’s price bracket. Even so, the Ioniq 5’s main advancements involve greater range and faster charging times, which are attributable mainly to its 800-volts battery pack.
When a carmaker refuses firmly to answer any of our technical questions, it raises suspicions. Recently, the Hyundai Motor Company has (literally) had its fingers burnt with high-voltage battery packs. Shortly after it announced Ioniq 5 to the world, reports of fires promoted a global recall of 82,000 Ioniq EV hatchback and Kona SUV electric models. The cost to both Hyundai and the battery supplier (LG Energy Solution, part of LG Chem) is reported to be around £630m. As any technician will testify, whom has undertaken high-voltage training, such fires are almost impossible to extinguish. Moreover, reports circulate that LG blames Hyundai for misapplying its suggestions for fast charging logic in the battery management system, although the South Korean government has since discovered defects within the battery cells. Worryingly, a North American proposed class-action lawsuit claims that Hyundai (along with other carmakers) has traded safety for EV range. Maybe this indicates that the motor industry’s move to electrification is more of a rush than a race, which is placing road users, drivers (and technicians) at risk.
While LG may be experiencing a strained relationship with the Hyundai Motor Company, it has also been embroiled in a legal dispute with another South Korean firm, SK Innovation, over stolen trade secrets in North America. The result was SK Innovation paying LG Energy Solution USD 1.8billion in April 2021, avoiding a ten-year ban in the US, so it could continue to work with the Ford Motor Company, including supplying batteries for its F150 EV pick-up truck. The relevance here is that SK Innovation provides Hyundai with NCM8 battery packs for the Ioniq 5. As expected, China has sniffed-out an opportunity. It has been reported that the Sino battery firm, CATL, will either supply battery packs, or license the technology for use in future Hyundai/Kia models that utilise the company’s E-GMP chassis. This makes some sense, because spreading suppliers (or even investigating manufacturing battery packs under licence) helps to shield the car manufacturer from shortages, such as the current crippling semi-conductor scarcity.
To fast-charge the battery pack to 80% capacity in 18 minutes and provide 60 miles of range in only five, the Ioniq 5’s NCM8 battery packs comprise approximately 80% nickel. However, elevated nickel levels enhance battery performance but make it more unpredictable. It has been alleged that CATL batteries, containing similar quantities of the element, have been the cause of vehicle fires. SK Innovation reports that the high nickel content also makes the packs difficult to manufacture safely. Even so, the NCM8 packs boast three technologies to counteract safety worries. Firstly, as the separator between the anode and cathode is only one-fifth the thickness of a human hair, electrons can transfer more easily between them. This is the secret behind the fast-charging function. Secondly, should the thin separator tear, thermal runaway can result. Therefore, not only is the separator made sufficiently strong, it is shaped (‘z-folded’) in such a way that there is a reduced possibility of the anode and cathode making contact, causing a short-circuit. Finally, the batteries feature thermal diffusion suppression technology and thus, should one cell fail, the resultant fire cannot spread.
As with most other EVs, the substantial battery pack is bolted to the Ioniq 5’s undercarriage, facilitated by the E-GMP’s flat floor pan. A video of the battery pack being opened can be viewed here. The Integrated Charging Control unit also supports 400 and 800-volts charging, without requiring different adapters. Hyundai’s £365 optional V2L (Vehicle To Load) system uses the battery pack to power 240V appliances. While this is nothing new (the Honda e possesses a similar system), at least Hyundai’s application can top-up other EVs. While the 3.6kW available is estimated to provide only around 15 miles of range per hour, if charging another Ioniq 5, it at least provides an answer to concerns that EV owners can only rely on being relayed back to base, should their batteries become discharged.
Considering its striking exterior and the substantial 3,000mm long wheelbase, it is a little disappointing that the Ioniq 5 is not more technically dense. Most of its genuine advancements focus on the battery pack, with its faster charging times and 240-280 miles range, although time will tell if the historic fire issues of high nickel batteries, which affect not just Hyundai, have been suppressed for good. Nonetheless, Ioniq 5 provides an interesting springboard, from which more technically advanced future E-GMP based Hyundai and Kias will grow.