GM Deal is a Milestone on Long Road for Maxwell Technologies

Shares of San Diego’s Maxwell Technologies (NASDAQ: MXWL) soared Tuesday by 18 percent, or 92 cents, to $6.03 a share, after Maxwell said General Motors is using its voltage stabilization system on many 2016 Cadillac models.

Maxwell said General Motors is the first North American automaker to integrate its ultracapacitor technology as part of an enhanced start-stop system, which shuts off the engine whenever the vehicle comes to a standstill and restarts as the driver accelerates again.

Maxwell is supplying the technology to Continental Automotive Systems, a GM electronic parts supplier, saying it will be a standard feature on 2016 Cadillac ATS and CTS coupes and sedans (except for ATS-V, CTS-V, and CT6 models.) The voltage stabilization system (VSS) electronic control results in a smoother start, reduces engine vibration, lowers fuel costs, improves performance, and reduces emissions, according to a statement released today by Maxwell.

The company says its ultracapacitors help modulate the power demand on the battery by providing the energy burst needed to restart the engine, reducing high currents and repeated cycling that can shorten battery life.

A Maxwell spokeswoman says more than 1 million cars now on the road use ultracapacitors, with more on the way.

Last November, the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium awarded a $2.68 million contract to Maxwell to develop a high-performance hybrid ultracapacitor/lithium-ion battery for stop-start systems. The consortium is a subsidiary of the United States Council for Automotive Research, the collaborative automotive technology organization for Detroit’s big three American automakers—Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, and GM.

It’s a modest project, but it has been a long road for Maxwell to get even this far.

The company was founded in 1965 as a government contractor that supplied ultracapacitors to places like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for use in pulsed-power experiments that simulated nuclear weapons blasts. Maxwell began to make the transition to commercial markets in the 1990s, and quickly identified the auto industry as a primary market for ultracapacitors, which store electrical energy much like a battery.

A battery can typically store more energy than an ultracapacitor. But a battery releases its energy gradually, while an ultracapacitor discharges its stored energy instantaneously. Unlike batteries, ultracapacitors can be fully recharged in seconds, and they can be discharged and recharged through a million cycles with no efficiency loss.

Franz Fink

Franz Fink

But getting ultracapacitor technology into the automobile industry supply chain has been a decades-long grind for Maxwell, punctuated by repeated reorganizations and layoffs.

In today’s statement, Maxwell CEO Franz Fink says, “GM’s selection of Continental’s Maxwell-powered VSS is a further affirmation of our ultracapacitor capability for varying applications as the automotive industry continues down its path of vehicle electrification.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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