The auto industry is charging ahead toward a future powered by batteries. But is fast too fast? Is all this innovation missing important components – is it all just too much shock to a system that has been powered for decades by the internal-combustion engine? Automotive News asked two men at the electric epicenter – Marvin C. Kröger, business development manager at Keysight Technologies; and Peter Lynch, president of MAHLE Industries Inc. – to provide some levelheaded observations about the future, tempered with perspectives firmly grounded in the realities of the present.
Plugging Away on Batteries Without Getting Jolted
Navigating the Electric Vehicle Landscape
Q: The push toward electric vehicles seems to be progressing faster than the underlying infrastructure – batteries, supply chain, charging stations. What are the most significant pain points that are likely to confront our EV ambitions in the next decade, and what can we do to address them?
Marvin Kröger: There are two key pain points:
Availability of charging infrastructure at home, at work and in parking lots. This needs to integrate into the electric grid. This will take time but can be beneficial. The average vehicle is stationary most of the time and “waiting” for its owner, who is working, shopping, etc. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) would allow us to make the grid more resilient.
People concentrate on range and charging times and need to be aware of the benefits of bigger battery capacities – e.g., flexible energy tariffs during low-demand times, backups during outages and grid stabilization
Peter Lynch: We see the service life of the battery, the cruising range of the e-car, the performance of the drive system and fast charging capability as keys for end customer acceptance. MAHLE is working to tackle these challenges, which have a direct dependence on thermal management.
We must ensure that every component of the drive system maintains its proper temperature, at all times and under all climate conditions. Thermal management also enables a comfortable climate in the vehicle cabin – which is not only pleasant for the driver but also a safety factor. The interior air conditioning must have as little influence as possible on the cruising range.
Like the entire industry, MAHLE continues to accelerate its shift toward climate-neutral mobility. Fighting climate change and the drastic reduction in CO2 emissions required in this context have become a top priority. Consequently, automakers are focusing more and more strongly on new drive systems. This applies especially to the advance of e-mobility. In the case of passenger cars, the share of battery electric and hybrid drive systems in global production will likely reach 70 percent by 2035. The latest forecasts indicate that 40 percent of all commercial vehicles throughout the world could be operated with battery-electric, fuel cell or hybrid drive systems. Many of our customers are adapting their plans accordingly, and we are also doing so.
Electrification and thermal management will be our cornerstones of future mobility. Components for green internal-combustion engines powered by hydrogen and synthetic fuels also remain important. Our approach is technology-neutral, and we need to employ all means available in order to decarbonize rapidly.
Q: Doesn’t this rush into EVs carry with it the risk that the Western world will be increasingly dependent on Asia? So what can we do about that?
Lynch: The trend toward electric cars has one very crucial point - namely, dependence on raw materials. In this context MAHLE has developed a Magnet-free Contactless Transmitter (MCT) E-Motor. This electric motor does not require rare earth elements and works extremely efficiently without wear.
Kröger: Over the past decades, Asia has built considerable knowledge in battery technology. The same is true for production capacities. The good news is several initiatives in Europe and North America have already started to incentivize research bodies, but also companies have invested in resources. For Western automakers, it is necessary to gain market share in battery production. The reason is they want to make sure to access supply when they need it. Since the battery cell chemistry, the battery pack design and the battery management system are key defining parts of a car, they have to understand and own the whole system if they want to differentiate from other brands. Furthermore, the aftersales market will be different. With internal-combustion-engine vehicles, spare parts contribute to the revenue flow of automakers. An electric engine is less complex and will need less maintenance. That alone should be a reason for the industry to go deeper into battery production.
Q: Carlos Tavares of Stellantis has said he could anticipate supply problems with batteries around 2025 or 2026. What, if anything, can be done to avert that—and isn’t it too late?
Kröger: Those projections aren’t new, and currently we see multiple new players in the market, but also established companies increasing their capacities. It’s hard to say if we are too late, but because we are not switching completely from internal-combustion-engine to electric vehicles, a breakdown of the market is unlikely.
In addition to that – and it might be a little bit early to count on that – but recycling of first-generation EVs will become a critical factor or can at least help to mitigate material constraints.
Lynch: E-mobility is a given for MAHLE. However, we will be unable to reach the climate protection goals with electrification alone. Although we see new investments in local facilities and mining projects around the globe, they will take time to develop and have an appreciable impact on supply. In our view, the green internal-combustion engine will continue to play a role for many years to come in several regions in the world. Therefore, our approach remains technology-neutral. In addition, I have the impression that since COVID it is widely understood that the security of the supply chains is crucial for our industry. This applies not only to batteries but also to semiconductors and other basic materials.
Q: Are the problems with the battery supply chain, the technology itself and even the raw materials required so significant that governments need to get more involved in solutions or partner with the auto industry?
Lynch: Our industry is operating in a very volatile environment. Governments can create the right framework conditions. This includes maintaining a technologically-oriented approach that promotes sustainable mobility of any kind.
Kröger: As already mentioned, there are programs like the Inflation Reduction Act and European Green Deal in place. Governments should create an environment where companies are willing to invest and get clear guidance on which emission goals need to be met. This applies not only to EVs themselves but also to charging-station installations, grid integration, approval processes for new installations, etc. From my point of view, it’s not efficient for governments to get more involved. At the same time, regulations around the second life and recycling of batteries would help to create a sustainable way to use this disruptive change in the mobility and energy sector as an advantage.
Q: The federal government often struggles to stay abreast of changes in technology in general. Is it similarly behind the curve on EV regulations and oversight? How will that affect the rollout of EVs?
Kröger: Due to a lack of regulations in the early days, we saw a coexistence of different standards like CHAdeMO, the proprietary Tesla protocol and Combined Charging System (CCS) standards. Even though Tesla and other OEMs like Ford, Daimler and GM announced they would use the North American Charging Standard (NACS) in North America, we have reached a status where we have a common understanding of the underlying communication protocols. For that reason, I don’t think we are behind the curve regarding charging standards, but we are still not there regarding availability and interoperability.
It’s a challenge that affects all relevant players – automakers and their suppliers, cell manufacturers, EV supply equipment vendors, standard bodies, utilities, aggregators and the consumer.
Lynch: We do not see government as being behind the curve on setting EV regulations. In the near to midterm, the rollout and adoption of EVs will be determined by the availability and ramp-up of EV manufacturing capacity, raw material supply chains and charging infrastructure.
Q: We hear a great deal about innovations in batteries and battery technology, such as solid-state batteries. A consumer could be forgiven for wondering whether to buy now, a year or two from now or wait it out. How does the industry handle this?
Lynch: Battery electric and hybrid drives as well as green internal-combustion engines and hydrogen drive systems will make up the drive system mix of the future. Customers have to think about their particular requirements. Based on their circumstances, they should be asking whether a BEV or a green ICE vehicle meets their needs best, and by when.
Kröger: I assume leasing an EV is a good option for customers who are uncertain about the next big step of battery technology. I also want to highlight we’ve already seen incremental improvements in EV batteries in recent years. If we take the Tesla Model 3, which is one of the most popular EVs in the U.S., over the past five years, its range increased by about 20% to 270 miles today.
Q: What can suppliers contribute to tackling the customer-relevant issues of e-vehicles, such as cruising range, fast charging, battery performance and service life as well as climate comfort, without loss of range?
Kröger: I personally think for a lot of people, the discussion about longer range is less critical, because the average daily commute is 40 miles, or 20 miles one way. Nevertheless, I can understand that people are looking for the same user experience as they have with an internal-combustion engine. For that reason, it’s important for the whole industry to keep on working and enable the advantages of electric vehicles. Keysight is a member of different industry groups like the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN) and working groups around V2G – in specific UL-1741 and IEEE 1547. Standardization and harmonization are key for a reliable and interoperable role out of EVs and charging stations.
The mobility and energy sectors will have an overlap – and not only the automotive suppliers but the entire industry needs to ensure interoperability within the entire ecosystem.
Lynch: MAHLE is committed to electric drive systems and smart charging so that e-mobility can become affordable, simple and reliable. For example, MAHLE has developed a smart charging infrastructure system, called chargeBIG. It is suitable for two-thirds of all charging operations, whenever vehicles are parked for a longer period. We charge a vehicle as fast as necessary, not as fast as possible. That saves money for the investor and reduces the strain on vehicle batteries. We are also working on wireless charging. Together with Siemens, MAHLE is developing a complete system comprising infrastructure and automotive engineering in order to set standards for inductive charging systems. We unveiled a new positioning system for this charging technology, in which the vehicle detects the induction surface in the ground and provides positioning assistance to the driver.
As mentioned, service life of the battery, cruising range of the e-car, performance of the drive system and fast charging capability strongly depend on the thermal management system. This significantly increases the complexity of the system. To reduce this complexity again while increasing efficiency, MAHLE has developed a new thermal management module. It combines, for example, a heat exchanger, coolant pumps, condenser, chiller, sensors and valves all in one compact unit. This reduces installation space, development effort and costs. At the same time, the complete system becomes significantly more efficient: Up to 20 percent more cruising range can be achieved with the MAHLE module in a system network with a heat pump compared to a pure electric heater architecture. The higher cooling performance also improves fast charging capability. Finally, with our solutions, we help to deliver maximum performance from batteries, fuel cells or fuel tanks by minimizing energy losses.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Marvin C. Kröger
Electric Vehicle Business Development Manager, Keysight Technologies
Marvin heads electric vehicle (EV) business development at Keysight, where he has gained a deep understanding of customers’ e-mobility applications at the business, technical, and process levels. He is passionate about the future of electric vehicles and leads a team of solutions experts to help automakers anticipate trends and build test strategies that bring better EVs and chargers to market faster. Learn more here.
President, MAHLE Industries Inc.
As president of MAHLE Industries, Peter Lynch operates in a dual role, leading North American administrative activities as president while also overseeing the sales strategy for MAHLE locations in North America. Peter steers the regional initiatives, policies and practices in support of MAHLE’s mission to shape the future of mobility with efficiency in motion. http://www.mahle.com