Growing electric vehicle development in India is leading to the development of the entire powertrain electrification
It is a fair assessment to say that the Indian automotive industry has embarked on its electric mobility journey. This push can be attributed to the multi-fold growth in development work around electric vehicles (EVs) as well as their components and ecosystem that consists of battery packs, chargers, charging infrastructure and electronics around it all. A major step in this direction is in the advancements towards the development of complete electric powertrains, which consist of the battery, battery management system (BMS), motor, power electronics, transmission, and axles. This is the electric powertrain of the future that is gaining more in terms of innovations from various quarters.
The country has been witnessing a growth in the rate of indigenous work carried out for EVs; however, a larger part of development is carried out by larger players with a global presence. These companies possess certain levels of expertise in the area of vehicle electrification but need to carry out a large amount of work to customise their EV innovations for a market like India. Customisation and local development requirements need to be carried out to address the factors of environmental conditions, state of infrastructure, and most importantly, cost. Therefore, a large part of re-engineering needs to take place locally for the introduction of existing global solutions into the Indian marketplace. Over the past few months, a number of industry conventions and expositions have provided the industry with products and solutions that are aimed at long-term electrification of the country’s automotive sector.
Experts have observed that the adoption of vehicle electrification in India will begin from two- and three-wheelers and subsequently move towards public transport systems like buses and taxi fleets, and then to the passenger vehicle space. Since this seems to be the general EV direction that the entire industry has fixed, it is but natural that the first electric solutions that are being developed are for vehicles such as e-rickshaws, e-autos, and two-wheelers. Up until now, and to a large extent, the components for electric two- and three-wheelers are imported from China and neighbouring countries and assembled locally. However, the local development of a large number of components continues to be carried out here.
In line with this trend, SEG Automotive India has launched its locally-developed and manufactured electrification product portfolio consisting of electric motors for e-autos and two-wheelers. The company noted that its technology has been developed in India to meet the requirements of the tough road conditions. The transition towards eco-friendly mobility is a global challenge, which hinges on many issues – battery price, production and capacity for green power production and sufficient charging infrastructure. However, electrifying two- and three-wheelers as compared to passenger cars, have a much lower barrier of entry and provide a quick solution in reducing urban pollution and CO2 emissions, particularly in India.
In India, a large proportion of individual mobility is accounted for by two- or three-wheelers, and light EVs make sense for the society and the individual consumer on an immediate basis unlike electric passenger cars, which are currently not ideal in this market due to high total cost of ownership and lack of charging infrastructure, noted Anil Kumar MR, President & Managing Director, SEG Automotive India.
Meanwhile, Indian vehicle electrification start-up Altigreen recently showcased its completely-integrated system for electric three-wheelers that can be used to move people or cargo. The company’s solution consists of the motor, gearbox, power electronics, control electronics, software, wiring harness and smart display, all wrapped into one. Altigreen also offers advanced connectivity for smart features, which can be customised by OEMs to their individual flavour for unique user experience. The vehicle features an e-axle to transfer the power of the motor to the wheels as well as an independent suspension that ensures increased levels of comfort and usability. The e-axle was designed in-house so as to offer improvements to the gearbox and shaft and thereby enhance the overall efficiency while cutting down on mechanical losses.
Shalendra Gupta, CFO, Altigreen, said the solution offered by the company is a plug-and-play offering, which has been tested extensively and certified by various agencies, including ARAI for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). The duration required for integration of such a system into existing vehicle architectures as well as the time-to-market is drastically reduced by Altigreen’s complete electric drivetrain offering, Gupta added. The battery pack that is offered as part of the entire package is something that Altigreen develops in collaboration with both the OEM purchasing the solution as well as battery manufacturers that can offer the prescribed requirements.
Altigreen is also developing a new larger electric powertrain focussed towards last-mile cargo-carrying commercial vehicles. This powertrain will be equipped with liquid cooling for the motor and controller, e-axle and a rigid suspension. The prototyping and first-level testing of this new and more powerful electric powertrain have been carried out and the product will begin series production in a few months, noted Gupta.
WHY THE ENTIRE POWERTRAIN?
The biggest advantage of EVs is that there are fewer components in the heart, which is the motor when compared to combustion engines. This simplifies the motor, thereby making it possible to integrate other components of the powertrain into more modular designs. The benefits of such modular and integrated systems are also multi-fold as they enable compact designing, lightweighting, and reduced efficiency losses, among others.
The shift towards EVs will only grow in any market if the merits outweigh the negatives, and offer a better overall experience than ICE vehicles. There is no doubt that EVs provide a quiet and balanced ride, with performance being a strong differentiator at all times. However, efficiency is the factor that needs to be a top priority in an electric powertrain, since any increase in efficiency directly leads to more vehicle range. The range is and will continue to be the biggest selling point of an EV at any given point in time.
Manufacturers are of the opinion that when they provide modular components comprising numerous parts that were independent earlier, they have better control over maintaining a higher level of efficiency, and invariably range. This has also led to increased rates of collaborative innovation across various companies and industries in order to develop components that are at the top of their game, in terms of their final output. The high electronics content of EVs also makes it easier for the integration of the latest generation technologies pertaining to safety, connectivity and vehicle autonomy. Therefore, the integration of multiple components and their collective development hold the key to being part of the EV ecosystem.
Electric powertrain manufacturers have been focussing a lot on two-wheelers and three-wheelers for mass transit and last-mile connectivity of people and goods. Such forms of mobility are best suited for electrification in a market like India, where infrastructure will also be a stumbling block towards achieving any new technological advancement. On the charging front, lithium cells for batteries are, and will not be available locally. This has led to a new phenomenon where a large number of companies are importing only the cells, while completely designing and manufacturing the battery packs and related components internally. This enables them to develop batteries for specific requirements, while also pairing them seamlessly with other locally-developed systems and controllers.
In addition, higher levels of localisation are also being observed. This becomes a methodology to benefit from economies of scale as well to offer better price points for cost-conscious markets. Over the last few months, the EV space has been witnessing a lot of action with a large number of international companies signing agreements and joint ventures with Indian companies for customised engineering and development of globally-renowned vehicle electrification solutions. This indicates that the Indian EV needs are undoubtedly unique and require not only complete powertrain development but also need it to be tailored for the local market necessities. It is therefore quite evident that there will be a growth in the number of companies opting to develop complete electric powertrains, rather than just specific components, which could potentially lead to improved adoption of EVs in the industry.
TEXT: Naveen Arul