When Delphi Automotive spun off its mobility business in late 2017, creating Aptiv to capitalize on self-driving technologies, Mary Gustanski stayed with Delphi, now known as Delphi Technologies, and became chief technology officer.
Delphi Technologies' focus is on powertrains and propulsion systems with the goal of reducing emissions and improving fuel economy with high-volume, affordable technologies. Gustanski, 56, a 37-year Delphi veteran, spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Q: Now that battery electric vehicles can travel more than 200 miles per charge and charging times are dropping, is a spike in EV sales coming soon?
A: We had a town hall recently for our employees and I met with a lot of our summer interns. I asked how many of them had driven an electric vehicle. Of course, not many. But that will change as more people experience them. First of all, you are going to want one because they are fun to drive. You are not really limited by power or even range, though there still is some lingering range anxiety. The hurdle now is just cost.
Ben Patel, Tenneco's chief technology officer, says the industry is amid a "material science revolution." Not long ago, you showed reporters lightweight aluminum wiring for cars. Is that an example of material science changing the basic parts of the car?
Yes. That wire is now on the Aptiv side of the business. If you think about Delphi's technologies, we are seeing different materials come into play really strongly with our power electronics.
A really good example is our investment in PolyCharge America, a capacitor company. You're seeing today's inverters starting to max out on how much current can pass through, not because of the power switches, but because the capacitors can't stand the heat. PolyCharge uses a different material than the traditional capacitor. That allows them to do a different type of processing. Because of that, they are able to fold in, layer in, the capacitor. That enables a much smaller footprint, about half the size of the capacitor that's in the market today, and it has higher temperature capability. Being able to increase the temperature capability is huge. We can make our inverters 10 to 15 percent smaller, and that's a big deal.
We think of Delphi mostly for its fuel injectors and cylinder cutoff technologies and some old-school engine components. What's Delphi Technologies' role in electric vehicles?
I get asked a lot about what we offer that's different. People ask, "Don't you think you ought to partner with an electric motor supplier? Put your inverter on it and have a package, or even partner with a gear manufacturer and have a three-in-one electric powertrain?"
We are doing that and we are happy to be the supplier for the inverter in any one of those applications, especially in Asia where a three-in-one, off-the-shelf solution is really popular.
But our strength, really, is sitting down with automakers and saying, "We can take our fundamental design and package it any way you need it. And wherever you want it. We'll make sure it fits in any space you want."
And that's a big deal these days. Even in an electric vehicle, automakers don't want components any larger than they need to be.
We've seen some slick engineering lately with electrified vehicles' power electronics. The Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius and the new Jaguar I-Pace have dramatically reduced the orange cables and put crucial components closer together. How does this affect costs?
We are seeing automakers come up with all-in-one power electronics boxes. If you recall, we launched that first with Volvo in the XC90. We did two DC-to-DC converters in one box. And the advantage is that you eliminate the connections and cables. But you have to be able to manage the thermal properties so you don't have failures. That's one of our strengths.
We're now starting to see customers say, "What if you also put in the onboard charger and the battery controller and the DC-DC inverter?" If you think about that, you're putting all your high-voltage electronics in one box where you need it and you're eliminating those big orange cables and connectors. That's as much as $1,000 in content.
But can you have advanced materials such as the PolyCharge capacitors, aluminum wires — and affordable vehicles?
The advanced materials almost make the vehicles more affordable. Some of these advanced materials are enabling increased processing capability, lower costs, higher capability components. The way I look at advanced materials, they really are a necessity for the future power we're going to have to provide. They are a necessity for the evolution in processing, size and temperature capability. And once you get to scale cost will come down.
Will the advances in material science also benefit the internal combustion engine?
This is a better question for the automakers. I argue with myself over this: How much more investment do automakers want to put into the engine? Not that it's going away anytime soon, but in the end, everyone has fixed resources. Are you going to put your resources into differentiating the next electric vehicle and all the self-driving research and the connectivity that consumers want?
I asked someone about a minor engine redesign, where you put in a new technology, such as cylinder deactivation. It's $50 million to $80 million just to get all the design activity done. Well, you might ask — what else could I do with that money? That's the debate going on right now.
What's the next frontier for improving the internal combustion engine's efficiency?
We like to focus on the injection and combustion systems. Fundamentally, if you don't make the bad stuff [C02 and other pollutants], there's less to clean up. Even in diesel, we've played around with stoichiometric combustion (an ideal process during which fuel is burned completely). If you do that, you might say, you'll lose all the benefits of diesel. But not really. Because there's only a small portion of the drive cycle where toxic emissions are the highest, and you eliminate what you are creating and then go back to the typical diesel combustion cycle. You really do clean up the exhaust.
But I do think the biggest opportunity will be with hybrids. The latest projections forecast that almost 40 million electrified vehicles, predominantly hybrids, will be sold by 2025. You will see those numbers increase as automakers realize that it's a great lever to pull to help with meeting regulatory requirement and putting features and content in vehicles.