Mercedes-Benz taps a breakthrough in battery tech, stricter IIHS side-impact test results are in, BMW changes the 3-Series for the sake of change. All this and more on today’s issue of The Morning Dump.
Welcome to The Morning Dump, bite-sized stories corralled into a single article for your morning perusal. If your morning coffee’s working a little too well, pull up a throne and have a gander at the best of the rest of yesterday.
Mercedes-Benz And Sila Think There’s Still Plenty Of Life In Lithium
I won’t lie, electric cars are pretty awesome. Clean, quiet, fast, and efficient in stop-and-go cycles, they make killer commuter vehicles. The trouble is that electric cars are heavy because traditional lithium-ion battery tech has rather poor energy density. A typical lithium nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) cell used in most electric cars has an energy density of 0.74 megajoules per kilogram. For context, gasoline has an energy density of around 46 megajoules per kilogram. See why we can’t seem to get enough dino juice? Thankfully, it looks like advancements in battery tech are just around the corner for Mercedes-Benz.
California-based Sila Nanotechnologies was founded by Gene Berdichevsky, an early Tesla employee who left the electric car startup to develop advanced batteries for future electric cars. Thanks to some clever engineering and working with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, these batteries could be closer to production that we think. So how does Sila’s battery work? Well, a large part of it is in the name. Instead of a graphite anode, Sila’s batteries use silicon anodes which have improved energy density over current NCM battery tech and a significantly higher volumetric capacity than graphite anodes. Higher volumetric capacity means faster charging speeds and higher discharge rates. The downside to silicon anodes? Swelling. However, Sila Nanotechnologies claims to be solving silicon’s swelling issue, starting with partial silicon anodes and developing full silicon anodes. This opens the door to cells with 20 to 40 percent greater energy density than traditional NCM cells and a significantly longer lifespan. Mercedes-Benz said in a press release Tuesday to expect high-silicon anodes to make their way into production cars like the upcoming electric G-Class mid-decade. Assuming 2026 at the latest, we’re just four years away from a huge breakthrough in battery tech finding its way into consumer hands. Rich consumer hands given the market positioning of Mercedes-Benz, but still.
Midsize SUVs Do Fairly Well In Tougher IIHS Side-Impact Tests
It’s no secret that the average new vehicle keeps getting bigger, heavier and faster. As such, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has toughened up its side-impact testing procedures with a new sled and new speeds. According to the IIHS, the sled that hits tested vehicles now clocks in at 4,200 pounds, some 900 pounds heavier than the old sled. What’s more, that sled is now traveling 37 mph rather than 31 mph, far more indicative of real-world speeds.
As the new sled is designed to mimic a midsize SUV, it only seems fitting that the IIHS has run 18 midsize SUVs through this new test. How did these SUVs perform? Come on, it’s 2022, of course the majority of them performed well. Let’s run through the IIHS’ results score by score. Scoring a top grade of good, the Ford Explorer, Infiniti QX60, Lincoln Aviator, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, and Volkswagen ID.4 all sailed through the new test without any issues. But wait, if 10 SUVs did well, eight SUVs must’ve done not so well. Scoring a grade of Acceptable are the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse, a score fully on-brand for those GM crossovers’ mid vibes. On academic probation with a score of marginal are the Honda Passport, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Wrangler four-door, Kia Telluride, and Nissan Murano. Hey, if everything achieves great scores, the test likely isn’t tough enough.
Despite Not Needing A Facelift, The BMW 3-Series Is Getting One Anyway
Change for the sake of change is rarely a good thing, but at least BMW’s managed to not completely ruin the 2023 3-Series compact luxury sedan. Honestly, the current car is really good. It’s not offensive to look at, it handles well, the engine lineup is superb, the cockpit is fitting of a compact luxury car, and all models are surprisingly good on fuel. The Cadillac CT4 may drive better but the 3-Series remains an archetype, the Toyota Camry of every dental conference’s parking lot. Still, after four model years on the market, it’s time for the 3-Series to get a facelift.
Now, BMW’s only released images of the M Sport model, but that still gives us something to work with on styling. The new front bumper features a taller lower grille and L-shaped air curtain/trim piece combination elements that honestly look pretty decent. Not as shapely as respective elements on the outgoing car but the minimalist linework seems quite good. The new headlamps are also good, featuring arc-shaped daytime running lights instead of the old car’s U-shaped daytime running lights. Think X3 for the bumper and 5-Series for the headlights, not a massive alteration. Finishing things off is a squared-off set of kidney grilles that actually look to be a reasonable size. What a nice surprise. Out back, things get messier. The new rear bumper would’ve been really great if not for the weird vertical black plastic wings coming off the outer edges of the lower valence, but these wings are no weirder than the NACA duct-inspired trim pieces on the current base rear bumper.
On the inside, the new 3-Series gets iDrive 8 with a 14.9-inch infotainment screen and a significantly more legible 12.3-inch digital cluster than on the old car. As ever, there’s a little give and take going on with tech. Standard three-zone climate control is really nice, but no hard buttons for climate control outside of a windshield defrost button isn’t so nice. Likewise, the new knobless shifter will take some getting used to, but standard paddle shifters are a welcome addition. Other than the aforementioned updates and a few new trim options, the 2023 3-Series is completely unchanged. Same great engines, same decent suspension tuning, same comfortable available sport seats. As such, we’d be surprised if pricing changes too much come the 2023 3-Series’ on-sale date this July. I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.
America’s Road Safety Trends Continue Their Downward Spiral
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released early data on 2021 road fatalities and man, there’s a smidgen of good news and a whole lot of bad news. The good news is that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has dropped slightly to 1.33 from 2020’s 1.34. The bad news? Americans drove 325 billion more miles in 2021 than they did in 2020. Yeah, that means road deaths are up overall to 42,915, some 4,091 fewer people who got to go home over 2020’s figure of 38,824. I’m beginning to think the infamous 2011 Chrysler tweet, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive” was a sign of things to come across the country.
Now, overall figures and dramatic percentages so commonly presented as news rarely paint a vivid picture, so let’s take the NHTSA’s full report and break things down board by board to see how and where Americans are dying on the roadways. Of the 4,091 new fatalities, only 522 of them were related to speeding. Honestly, that’s not terrible. What is terrible is the pedestrian death count. Crashes killed 7,342 pedestrians last year, up 826 over last year and more than in any year since 1981 according to NHTSA statistics. That means the most vulnerable road users make up 20.19 percent of new fatalities. Now I’m no data scientist, but pedestrian deaths increasing at a faster rate than speeding-related deaths seems to imply that something other than speed is behind the shocking deaths. Gee, I wonder if it has something to do with car buyers’ insatiable thirst for SUVs and IIHS-observed higher pedestrian death rates from SUV impacts. Beyond vehicle choices and road design, the takeaway message is to be an alert and considerate driver. The best active safety system is driver skill and awareness, plain and simple.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on this edition of The Morning Dump. Happy Wednesday everyone, we made it to the middle of the week. While mid-cycle updates, otherwise known as facelifts, are a long-running affair in the auto industry, I’m beginning to wonder if they’re still necessary. Updates to technology are usually a welcome thing, but why spend all the money on revising styling and molding new bumpers, grilles, and brackets, when the funds could be better spent on features that car buyers desire? I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
Lead photo credit: Mercedes-Benz