Electric vehicles are currently dominating discussion surrounding the drive of tomorrow. automotion talks to Wolfgang Reimann, Executive Vice-President Vehicle Electronics at IAV, about future mobility and the enormous challenges posed by electric vehicles to OEMs and component suppliers.
The electric drive is currently dominating the headlines: Daimler is providing more than 100 electric vehicles for the "e-mobility Berlin" initiative, Volkswagen is carrying out a joint research project in future mobility under the "Electromobility fleet test" heading and has presented the Golf TwinDrive, a combination of electric motor with range extender
A lot has been said about the hybrid car in recent months. Now, electric vehicles seem to be dominating the headlines – new hype?
W. Reimann: Electric vehicles will stay hype if consumers do not get the incentives to buy them – because otherwise nobody will be able to afford them. Consumers do their sums very carefully when they look at whether it is at all worth their while investing in an electric vehicle. Let's take the example of a medium-size car with a consumption of seven liters per 100 kilometers (33.6 mpg) and mileage of 10,000 kilometers (6213.7 miles) a year: From 2010 on – and there won't be any electric vehicles on the road before then – owners would make significant energy-cost savings. Over ten years, they would pay out around € 4,300 on electricity whereas a conventional vehicle equipped with a combustion engine would use around 10,500 euro's worth of fuel. On the other hand, the electric vehicle will be a lot more expensive to buy: I expect them to come in somewhere in the region of € 35,000. The combustion-engine car will probably cost only € 21,000.
W. Reimann: The main reason for the big difference in price is down to the batteries which are still extremely costly. And at low mileage, the trade-off for electric vehicles looks poor. This dampens the prospects for success quite considerably: Experiences in the past with fuel-economy concepts, like the three-liter Lupo, have shown that consumers are not prepared to pay more for this kind of innovation because at the bottom line they don't pay.
So, what incentives could encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles?
W. Reimann: Well, a significant reduction in road tax, for instance, and free parking with downtown battery-charging stations or the lifting of driving bans in smog. All of these could, in a transitional phase at least, help to stimulate the demand for electric vehicles on the government side. In London, say, electric vehicles are exempt from paying the congestion charge when they enter the City.
With hardly any hybrid cars on the market yet, electric cars are causing a furor. Will they overtake the hybrid?
W. Reimann: No, because development will go on side by side: What we will need in future is adapted mobility – we will no longer be driving a universal car that caters to every need from the supermarket trip to a full-fledged family vacation. Vehicles of this type will make less sense for more and more people. Instead, the trend will be toward cars that cover maybe "only" 90 percent of requirements. These may well be two-seater electric vehicles that do not need a particularly large driving range – my vision is an electrically powered car with a range of a say 100 kilometers and top speed of 120 km/h. With a range extender, the vehicle's range could also be increased by a good 250 kilometers.
W. Reimann: Yes, for the remaining ten percent, people could fall back on an improved system of car-sharing – but the options need to be more attractive than the conditions offered by car rental companies today, and the vehicles that are available must be well looked after and kept in proper working order whenever they are needed. A vehicle pool of this type could then also consist of hybrid cars that guarantee a greater traveling range but still offer potential savings. As such, there is justification for both approaches: Electric vehicles for everyday needs, hybrid cars for special requirements.
Do electric or hybrid concepts make sense for commercial vehicles as well?
W. Reimann: I don't see any benefits here for long-distance trucking. Yet hybrid and electric vehicles could be put to effective use in delivery traffic – because traveling ranges do not need to be all that great on the one hand, and a hybrid vehicle could lead to a significantly lower level of consumption in bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions on the other.
What new chances do electric vehicles offer for service providers like IAV?
W. Reimann: Generally speaking, there are plenty of new projects currently underway at OEMs for hybrid and electric vehicles, and they are extremely willing to work on them with external service providers. As IAV has been active in this field for over 15 years – partly with our own in-house development work – we see ourselves very well positioned for the future. In particular, this is where expertise is in demand for electric drives and storage technologies. But other aspects of vehicle electronics also pose challenges. Take car-sharing for example: For this, the actual process of using a vehicle needs standardizing – because anyone getting into an unfamiliar vehicle today often takes quite a while before finding the simplest of functions, such as light switches or electric window lift. This is where customer-friendly controls would help.
What distinguishes development projects in the hybrid or electric vehicle segment from classic projects?
W. Reimann: Some of the technologies required – e-motors or traction batteries for example – are not yet ready for automotive use. This also has to do with the fact that many new suppliers in this field are in most cases not yet familiar with the specific requirements of the automotive industry. In my estimate, it will take another five to ten years before we are at the same level here as we are now in the case of vehicles with combustion engines because you cannot buy experience. Whereas we have gone through a process of evolution in combustion engines, introduction of the electric motor is tantamount to a revolution – as there are so many changes to the overall vehicle. Given our many years of experience, we are well positioned to support the new players in this field.