A wide variety of electric and hybrid cars are already available in automakers’ showrooms. Yet a strategic Ricardo white paper argues that if automakers are to meet their targets for environmental and commercial sustainability, further innovations will be necessary in both electrified powertrain technology and in product development processes.
The global automotive industry is in a period of profound and unprecedented change. Reeling from the aftershock of the VW ‘dieselgate’ scandal, and with tough new regulations on real driving emissions (RDE) and fuel economy beginning to bite, the industry needs to make urgent progress in improving its environmental impact. The electrification of vehicle powertrains – ranging from the implementation of start/stop through to full battery electric vehicles – is widely seen as the means by which the global automotive industry can move closer towards the goal of true sustainability.
A strategic white paper, Driving Automotive Electrification, was published by Ricardo in June 2017, aimed at shedding light on this subject. Bringing together the perspectives of the company’s vehicle technology and market forecasting experts from the technical and strategic consulting teams as well as from Ricardo Innovations and Ricardo Software, the paper sets out a vision for the future of powertrain electrification.
COSTS AND CARBON TRADE-OFF OF ELECTRIFICATION
To provide a common frame of reference for analysis and debate, the white paper sets out to define a range of the most commonly proposed future powertrain architecture choices. Eight distinct categories are identified, from state-of-the-art conventional internal combustion engines through to fuel cell vehicles. In each case, the trade-off of CO2 benefits and cost is summarised, together with practical considerations of implementation and style of use, (1).
The Ricardo perspective on the technology roadmap for lithium-based cell chemistries is presented, together with the company’s views with regard to the likely point at which commercial parity with conventional combustion engine powertrains is likely to be reached.
RECHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE – THE NEXT BIG CHALLENGE
If and when the breakthrough in battery technology is achieved and low-cost energy storage is delivered at a price and capacity equivalent to today’s onboard liquid fuel tanks, will consumers switch en masse to battery electric vehicles. Not without considerable investment in charging infrastructure, according to the paper.
Accommodating the energy requirements of a largely electrified vehicle fleet may well be achievable at a grid scale, through the appropriate planning of generating capacity. But the local distribution network is the point at which significant reinforcements are likely to be required to enable this. Moreover, the paper argues, if a large part of the urban population is not to be excluded from electric vehicle use – in exactly the locations where the substitution of fossil fuels is most beneficial for the environment in terms of local air quality – then significant additional public charging capacity will have to be made available at an affordable price.
The report argues that it is therefore crucial that mechanisms for delivering such network upgrades and infrastructural improvements are put in place at a policy level to ensure that the market for battery electric vehicles does not encounter a further roadblock once the issues of battery cost and energy density are overcome.
AN INCREASINGLY POLARISED POWERTRAIN WORLD
Looking ahead to the global automotive market of 2030, Ricardo believes that the current market of multiple largely low-volume electrified powertrain types will transition to one that clusters around two to three much higher volume architectures, (2).
With the gradual improvement of the battery cost, capacity and energy density trade-off represented by lithium-based cell chemistries, the company sees the market penetration of pure electric vehicles increasing significantly as lower-priced products become available with increased range between recharges. However, this increase in market share is from a very low base – around a single per cent today – and is likely to remain modest in absolute terms.
Instead, mild hybrids are likely to represent a much more significant proportion of the market as a second mainstream powertrain technology. These new mild hybrids will be based on optimised combustion engine technology – increasingly gasoline rather than diesel – and 48 V electrical architectures. As Ricardo’s ADEPT demonstrator demonstrated in 2016, such architectures can provide performance close to that of many of today’s full hybrids, but at a price point likely to be considered attractive to both the consumer and automaker.
As the market coalesces around these two poles, many of today’s wide range of alternative electrification architectures are likely to have fallen out of favour on grounds of cost. But one commercially successful niche that we would expect to see between the two poles of the market could be that for plug-in hybrids, offered in particular by premium brands. The attraction of PHEVs would be to offer more affluent consumers a practical ‘best of both worlds’ of comfort, convenience and avoidance of change, albeit at a premium price, (3). The size of this third and more complex niche is, however, perhaps more difficult to estimate due to the many variables of branding, marketing and public perception at play.
ENGINEERING THE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION
The final section of the paper addresses an often overlooked but nonetheless very important issue for the future of the motor industry. If the incorporation of powertrain electrification into a given vehicle creates a new and more complex form of product development requirement, how can we reimagine the product development organisation to be attuned to this new challenge?
A wide range of organisational models have been deployed for the product development activities of the major automakers, the paper outlines. Some appear to favour the clustering of the entire electrified vehicle activity as a single entity, alongside that of conventional vehicle development. Others have elected to take the path of organising electrified powertrain competence as a separate pillar within their existing propulsion subdivisions, alongside those, for example, of gasoline and diesel engines, transmissions, driveline and chassis. Some automakers have chosen to take the path of integrating their operations. Still others have changed their approach, having tried one organisational structure and moved on to another as they attempt to accommodate the particular needs of powertrain electrification.
Rather than critique the approach taken by any particular organisation, Ricardo instead presents its own vision and strategy for the integration of electrification skills into a combined powertrain product development capability. Ricardo’s product development team is one of the largest fully independent players in the global market, though comparatively small by main automaker standards. However, the sheer diversity of the company’s customer base and the types of products that it is required to develop means that Ricardo needs to be highly flexible and adaptable to the requirements of the emerging electrified powertrain future, providing a potentially valuable example to others.
INTEGRATED PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
The company’s approach focuses on creating a seamless product development environment, based on integrated functional systems engineering. For electrified powertrain development, Ricardo believes that the functional system engineering discipline within the development organisation needs to provide an additional layer over and above the traditional organisational delineations of engine, transmission, chassis and other sub-systems engineering teams.
This rebalancing to strengthen the functional system engineering activity relative to that of the subsystems is key to the successful and efficient integration of electrified and non-electrified powertrain product development within a single organisation. But this is not the only fundamental change the paper describes as being necessary: in parallel with the new focus on functional system engineering, Ricardo believes that the CAE simulation architecture that underpins current world-class product development activity must be integrated in a similar way.
The Ricardo integrated model-based development (IMBD) environment aims to achieve this by providing a framework for the exchange of data and information between analysis and simulation operations, and offering a hierarchy of tools that can be applied. Extreme care is required in order to focus activity, both in creating the connections within the simulation environment that supports IMBD, and in the selection of CAE tools to be used for each new product development programme.
SKILLS ACQUISITION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
As many automakers are already finding out, the increasing electrification content of new vehicle products is leading to a requirement for new skills in the engineering of electrical and electronic systems and control technologies. Perhaps the most obvious response to this emerging need would be simply to recruit new engineers, who are trained and previously experienced in these disciplines.
The paper contends that some level of strategic recruitment is unavoidable as the proportion of electrification increases, and this provides an obvious means of seeding these new skills into the powertrain development organisation. But Ricardo believes that the bulk of the demand for new skills growth is perhaps best served by balancing a few strategic recruitments with organic development.
The example is given where the skills required for the development of new products based upon electrified powertrain architectures are comparable with those required for the modern combustion engine, including thermal management, NVH and structural and dynamic systems optimisation. Control and electronic systems development are also common requirements of electrified and non-electrified powertrains, albeit with differences in the details of application.
But there is a further crucial advantage to this approach of organic development of the organisation according to Ricardo: Not only will such a multi-skilled workforce be better placed to deliver the complexity of new products required for the future, but the company believes that its engineers will be more motivated and inspired by the breadth and diversity of the challenges they face in their professional careers.
A VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION TO THE DEBATE ON ELECTRIFICATION
Uncertainty still surrounds the specific powertrain electrification solutions likely to be favoured by the major markets over the coming decade and beyond. Against this background, the Ricardo white paper Driving Automotive Electrification is intended as an objective contribution to the debate as to how this challenge can be met.
STEVE SAPSFORD is Director of Business Strategy at the Ricardo Shoreham Technical Centre in Shoreham (UK).
MARKUS DOERR is Global Managing Director at Ricardo Strategic Consulting in Munich (Germany).
To obtain a free copy of the Ricardo paper ‘Driving automotive electrification’, visit: https://automotive.ricardo.com/electrification/driving-automotive-electrification