Millen Works aims to infiltrate China’s EV industry–so long as no defense uses for the tech
I visited with Mike Reagan, director of the commercial OEM division for Millen Works, today. Millen Works www.millenworks.com is based in Tustin, CA, in Orange County to the south of Los Angeles. It has four business areas: commercial, defense, custom manufacturing and entertainment. It was founded by legendary off-road rally car racer Rod Millen, but sold to Textron Systems, which is a big military contractor among its other businesses.
So Millen Works currently earns a lot of its income from military projects. But it wants to diversify, and Reagan is working on that. His division focuses on non-military customers, and especially Class 5 medium-weight commercial vehicles. Reagan is concentrating on electric vehicles, both hybrid and pure electric. Why concentrate on EVs, I asked? “I’ve been in automotive for 25 years,” said the Delphi veteran. “Never have I seen the global industry so focused on one technology. That’s where the research dollars are.”
Naturally, Reagan has his eye on China, where the government is encouraging automakers to jump into the electric vehicle sea. Not so long ago, battery electric vehicles were the big thing as far as the Chinese government was concerned. Now, at least in the near term, hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are looking a lot better. In any case, China’s automakers are interested in electric vehicles of all types these days.
Millen Works aims to speed up that process. What kind of business is Millen Works looking to do in China, I asked? “Rapid development of engineering services for electric vehicles for Chinese OEMs,” he said.
There is a caveat. The technology can’t violate ITAR, said Reagan. That stands for International Traffic in Arms Regulations. To quote this website in brief: “ITAR places strict controls on the export of “defense articles” and “defense services.” http://www.oesrc.researchcompliance.vt.edu/ITAR/index.html In other words, Millen Works can’t help China produce electric tanks and the like.
But Millen Works has plenty of capabilities and technology that don’t fall into the defense article category. And as China’s leaders have admitted, there are some gaps in China’s EV technology portfolio which don’t seem to violate ITAR since other U.S. companies are already trying to sell the same technology to China. Two big gaps are battery management systems and battery packaging. Millen Works has both, and is hawking them in China, targeting Class 5 commercial vehicles, says Reagan. “We also do internal combustion engine development,” he hastens to add.
Given the many other companies out there trying to sell this kind of technology to Chinese companies, it is a competitive area. Millen Works has a leg up because it already built prototypes for many defense industry companies—even if it can’t talk about them…. But Millen Works also has non-defense industry customers. Reagan mentioned that Millen worked on the first Coda www.codaelectric.com BEV sedans and also on Fisker Karma www.fiskerauto.com PHEV prototypes. And, there was a Ford-badged vehicle on one of the many machines in the Millen Works building.
Reagan is headed to China next week to meet with a list of Chinese automakers, whom I know but am not at liberty to disclose. Seems to me he should find a welcoming audience. The battery packaging technology should be as popular as the battery management system. Jeff Seidel, CFO of battery maker Ener1 told me that Wanxiang was interested in Ener1’s battery packaging ability. “They are probably 2-3 years behind in terms of their pack design and not as far in terms of their cell,” said Seidel of Wanxiang. If Wanxiang, www.wanxiang.com China’s largest automotive supplier company, needs that technology there is no doubt other Chinese automakers need it too. (Actually, Reagan said Chinese cells could use some improvement, which is doubtless true at many Chinese companies, though perhaps not Wanxiang.)
Of course I am not an engineer and I can’t really make a judgment as to the quality of Millen Works’ battery packaging technology. But hey, its batteries work in really big, heavy military vehicles so I’m guessing the quality is pretty good.
Reagan gave me a tour of the Millen Works building, which includes many testing machines such as two huge nitrogen tanks with frost on the top which are part of a dyno used to test shock absorbers, said Reagan. Also a chassis dyno in the back, and a huge precision machining tool, among other delights.
There is another market Reagan might explore in China given the many amusement parks that are being built there now. In one room were what looked exactly like roller coaster cars. In fact they were roller coaster cars. Millen Works makes suspensions; roller coasters need really good suspension system. One of its division is entertainment. Reagan couldn’t reveal who the customers are for the company’s entertainment division. But he did mention some of the product was going to Orlando….