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AVL Industry Spotlight: Electrification Trends

When electrified transportation technologies disrupted the market, new trends emerged. What are they and how will they impact the automotive industry? We sat down with one of AVL’s electrification experts, Jodi Trombley, to find out more about the emerging trends in electrification.

Jodi Trombley has more than 15 years of automotive experience, 10 years in electrification specifically, and is the senior director of e-mobility & new technologies business development at AVL Powertrain Engineering, Inc. (PEI). She focuses on new entrants into the automotive market and new areas of business for AVL.

Question: How are electric vehicles redefining the automotive industry?  
Answer: Historically, there has been a lot of negativity about electric vehicle adoption. However, sales now show that people do want battery electric vehicles (BEVs), but for different reasons, like performance and status, rather than just for fuel savings.

​​​​​​​Q: What does the future of electric vehicles look like in the next 10-20 years?
A: Projections say that passenger car xEV (meaning all types of electrified vehicles) sales will increase substantially in the long term, but the most growth potential is in full-electric for the 2030-2040 timeframe. The very high-volume architectures will probably continue to be non-plug-in hybrids in the US for the short term. Americans tend to buy larger crossovers/SUV/trucks and the perception is that majority of people here want to travel without being restricted by charging station locations. However, government regulations/incentives and technology advancements in fast charging will hopefully drive up BEV/PHEV sales in the future.

Q: What are the limitations of battery technology and do you think it can perform in the way we need it to?
A: Recent vehicle launches have shown that battery technology is already capable of long (300+ mile) range operation in passenger cars. Now, the focus is on reducing battery costs through innovative designs that require less expensive materials to make BEVs more competitive against their gasoline counterparts.

Q: What are the top challenges facing the transportation industry in respect to the electrification of vehicles?
A: There are many challenges right now, but some of the biggest ones are:

1. The availability and cost of precious or rare earth metals (this is also an issue for fossil fuel vehicles) and secondary use and/or recyclability of battery packs.

2. Low fuel prices have led to increased interest in large SUVS/trucks in the US, which aren’t always ideal candidates for plug-in hybrid/electric vehicle (PEV) applications.

​​​​​​​3. With xEVs being one of the keys to a zero emissions future, developing fast charging or H2 fueling stations for PHEVs or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV), respectively, is a necessity.

​​​​​​​4. Threats to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and federal incentives for xEVs in the US. With the potential of a trade war and additional tariffs, the cost to produce xEVs may be increased.

​​​​​​5. Cost of power electronics. The increased number of Electronic Control Units (ECU) found in xEVs also exacerbates this cost problem.

6. An increase in the number of people moving into cities without full access to private charging stations. Fully autonomous vehicles could help overcome this challenge and may even increase the attraction of BEVs, but the challenge remains for the short term in areas where public charging isn’t readily available.

​​​​​​​7. Shifting public perception formed from outdated technology (like range anxiety, long charging times, and low performance) to focusing on how newer technology creates convenience for the user. With BEVs, users can have a full “tank” every morning or after leaving work and don’t have to worry about finding time to pump gas.

​​​​​​​Q: Is technology a solution to these challenges? If so, what are the most exciting technological transformations you’re seeing underway in the industry?
A: Ultra-fast charging and wireless charging could increase the adoption of BEVs in areas where private charging isn’t available and increase usage in the public transportation sector (e.g. delivery trucks, buses). Also, fewer public stations would be needed if the throughput at each station is increased significantly. Wireless charging also complements future Level 5 autonomous vehicles—especially those that would be used as taxis.
There are also new battery technologies, such as solid state, that are gaining interest. The short-term downside to some of these technologies is that they currently cost more than standard Li-ion technology, which is produced at a higher volume.
As new technologies disrupt the market, more and more companies are facing challenges that they’ve never seen before. To relive some of these growing pains, AVL has developed a four-phase process: (1) benchmarking, (2) target setting, (3) virtual attribute development, and (4) balancing and concept definition. This approach transfers development tasks to the virtual world and allows companies to reduce the number of prototype vehicles.

Q: What is one emerging trend in the transportation industry that everyone should look out for in the coming year?
A: Continued mergers and acquisitions, along with partnerships among OEMs, Tier 1s/2s, and startups. This trend of sharing technology and innovations can be attributed to the speed at which technology is changing and could signal that we are about to enter an era of significant growth.