How does a traditional powertrain component and systems supplier stay relevant in an electrified- and autonomous-mobility future? Horst Binnig, CEO of Rheinmetall Automotive AG (formerly KSPG), a company with more than a century of ICE technology expertise, spoke with Automotive Engineering on this topic at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.
Why pursue an electro-mobility portfolio when the internal combustion engine still dominates production vehicle applications?
Forty percent of our product portfolio today is suitable for internal combustion engines as well as for hybrids and for e-driven vehicles. For us, it has never been a decision to do something and leave something else behind, so e-mobility products are an add-on to our portfolio. Our content on an e-car could be substantial. For perspective, the London Taxi Company’s next-generation cabs will be purely e-driven. We’ll have four oil pumps on those e-cars with the content per car exceeding €200. That’s more than what we have today on an ICE-driven car, which is €100-€150 in content per car excluding the engine block.
What are other Rheinmetall Automotive e-mobility product application examples?
Not all of the products we offer for an ICE-driven vehicle are needed for an e-mobility application. You don’t need a cylinder head for an e-driven vehicle, but you do need an engine. We’re leveraging our aluminum die-casting expertise for an e-engine being done for a German supplier. It’s being produced on the IC engine block machine, using the same process. We recently received a €65 million order from another German supplier for battery housings. These die-cast aluminum battery boxes, which start production in mid-2018, will house the rechargeable battery cells for a crossover utility vehicle and a sports limousine. Both battery electric vehicles are for the European market.
How is the company committing to electro-mobility in terms of R&D and the workforce?
The big challenge is having the right people on-board. One of the reasons why we changed our name from KSPG to Rheinmetall Automotive is because we want engineers to view us as a technology company. We cooperate with universities around the world. And we’re looking to partner with companies. On the R&D side, roughly 6% of sales goes to R&D work with a payback time typically in two to three years. It would be difficult to reduce the amount spent on R&D for ICE technologies since this is still our mainstream business. We will dedicate a certain amount of R&D spending for electro-mobility and other specialized technologies, but we expect a longer payback time.
You talked about e-mobility rewards, but is there a risk with a shift to electro-mobility?
E-mobility can help the automotive industry move forward, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges. There is a potential societal risk. The ICE powertrain has roughly 3500 parts, but an e-powertrain has approximately 35 parts. You don’t need a gearbox. There is no crankshaft or camshaft. At the OEM-level, you have big plants with workers assembling combustion engine parts and gearboxes. If you do not need ICE products, you have an employment problem. On the supplier side, there are Tier 4 and 5 companies that produce a specific combustion engine part and that’s their only product. Companies that build the machinery for the assembly lines would be affected. The ripple goes on and on. As an industry, we’ve got to take care of this jobs-loss threat. And that requires us to be aware of the risk.