Canadian startup eLeapPower battery tech picked by China’s Chery Automobile Co.

A new type of electric vehicle inverter developed by Canadian auto components startup eLeapPower will launch this year on a popular line of commercial vans from China-based Chery Automobile Co.

The milestone will transition the Toronto-based company’s cost- and weight-saving battery-charging technology from the lab to the production floor after years of development.

Company CEO Russell Pullan said several hurdles still need to be cleared, but volume production of eLeapPower’s integrated inverter is on track to start in China before the end of 2023. Chery will use the novel piece of electrical equipment in its line of all-electric Dolphin vans, which sell domestically in the “low tens of thousands” per year, he added.

“The plan is not to do three or five and see how it goes. It’s all or nothing,” Pullan told Automotive News Canada in January.

Assuming the technology proves itself on the van line, Pullan said, Chery plans to use it on all its commercial products, amounting to more than 200,000 vehicles per year.

He said eLeapPower has been working with the Chinese manufacturer, which is among the country’s top EV producers, since 2019.

The company’s inverter, which takes advantage of the windings and magnetics already present in EV motors to charge an EV’s battery, is able to handle both alternating and direct current (AC and DC), and has inherent bidirectional charging capabilities. The company said it gives EVs the ability to charge directly from the grid, while allowing automakers to forego installing microwave-sized onboard chargers, which are ubiquitous in the current generation of EVs.

The resulting vehicle is lighter, cheaper and can charge more quickly than production EVs today.

The company exhibited its technology at the recent CES in Las Vegas.

Founded as Havelaar Canada in 2016 before rebranding, eLeapPower has spent years perfecting its technology from its engineering base in Toronto, and more recently, a lab in Shenzhen, China. Its headcount totals about 50 staff, with roughly 35 in Canada and the remaining 15 in China.

With roots in research as opposed to manufacturing, eLeapPower is turning to established auto parts suppliers to contract manufacture its inverter. Pullan said the company is leaving the door open to further suppliers as well, but has already signed letters of intent or memoranda of understanding with Canada’s Linamar Corp., and Hasco Automotive Systems, which is owned by Chinese auto giant SAIC Motor Corp.

For Chery, the part will be built in China, Pullan added.

Both eLeapPower and Chery are intent on getting the new inverter into electric vans this year, Pullan said, but this milestone is not without several remaining challenges. He pointed to finalizing the design for the component, firming up contract manufacturing partners and the homologation process as a few of the obstacles.

“Those are big steps, and we are not only growing the partners we’re working with, but also growing the team at a senior level with more people who’ve done it before.”

The Canadian company is simultaneously working on broadening its horizons. While its inverter will launch first on a commercial vehicle in China, Pullan said the benefits of the component extend to every vehicle type and every global market. Chery has not been granted exclusivity, he added.

The company has opened dialogues with a range of potential customers, including global automakers, bus and truck manufacturers, and Tier 1 suppliers, said Pullan.

One partnership it has disclosed publicly is with India-based Pinnacle Mobility Solutions. The two companies are working to integrate eLeapPower’s inverter into electric transit buses built by one of Pinnacle’s subsidiaries.

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