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Electric Vehicle Powerhouse: BorgWarner, UQM Team Up

In a move that could mark the birth of a powerhouse electric vehicle tech partnership, UQM Technologies (s UQM) and BorgWarner (s BWA) have just announced plans to collaborate on electric powertrain systems for hybrid and electric vehicles.


First in line for the new duo’s technology is Coda Automotive, the electric car startup based in Santa Monica, Calif., that plans to launch an electric sedan (pictured) next year in California. One piece of the tech is already on the road in a competing startup’s vehicles, however: Tesla Motors also uses a single-speed eGearDrive transmission made by BorgWarner in its Roadster.

The story of Tesla’s transmissions has not always been a happy one. BorgWarner came on board to build the single-speed transmission after Tesla had encountered problems with a two-speed design and an earlier deal with auto parts giant Magna Powertrain ended in a lawsuit. As recently as this past spring, an extended delay in shipments from BorgWarner this past spring could have spelled doom for the startup, according to a recent profile of Tesla CEO Elon Musk in The New Yorker.

While the more modestly priced $45,000 Coda Sedan is a different animal than the slick, $109,000 Tesla Roadster, Coda’s ability to avoid Tesla’s component troubles could depend on a smoother integration of UQM’s propulsion system and BorgWarner’s transmission into Coda’s sedan. In addition, steady contributions from a range of partners, mostly based in China, could help diversify its supply base and keep costs in check. The startup has been working with companies including Hafei Motor and Lishen throughout the development of the car, attempting to leverage what McKinsey Quarterly has described as China’s “low-cost labor supply, its fast-growing vehicle market, its success in rechargeable-battery technology, and its substantial investments (both made and committed) in R&D for electrified transport.”

UQM and BorgWarner, by contrast, are both based in the U.S. Colorado-based UQM, which won a $45.1 million grant from the Department of Energy in the recent round of stimulus funding awards for battery manufacturing, is already a major player in the electric vehicle market, while Michigan-based BorgWarner’s main business lies in conventional vehicles. Success with the Coda Sedan project could potentially give the two companies a boost for future deals with their integrated system for electric vehicles.