With 272 technical presentations in eight parallel sections, the FISITA Automotive World Congress held in Munich in September covered the full spectrum of current automotive innovation. And yet there was one common denominator that every plenary and panel session speaker repeated.
Michael Paul, Congress Chairman and Executive Vice President of ZF, was the first among the many experts to refer to “the enormous challenges to the automotive engineering community” during his opening remarks. Challenge and change seemed to be the two unofficial mottoes of the biennial event that took place in Munich for the third time—and in Germany for the fourth time.
Officially the congress focused on the Future of Automobiles and Mobility. FISITA and its German member society VDI (Association of German Engineers), hosting the “family gathering of engineers” as Paul put it, claimed that around 1700 experts had registered and that the selected presentations had been chosen from 1100 applications.
The German State Minister of Transport, Wolfgang Tiefensee, said that “engineers are shouldering an immense responsibility for the future.” And he asked, “What will be the automotive industry’s contribution to society, environment, and economy? With 800 million cars on the road globally today and an expected doubling to 1.6 billion within 30 years, it is 'five past 12.' The situation is dramatic and we need attainable goals like the limitation of carbon dioxide emissions to 120 g/km.”
Unfortunately, the politician had already left when FISITA President Akihiko Saito, Senior Technical Executive at Toyota (and known as “Mr. Corolla”), acknowledged the serious concern over the growth of CO2 emissions and predicted that the industry “will continue to stretch the limits of automotive technology, broadening the horizon.”
Klaus Draeger, board member responsible for development at BMW, replied to the minister’s address in a little less diplomatic manner, by agreeing to “an impressive list of challenges."
“We may have to reinvent ourselves," he said. "Innovation will remain the answer to challenges, yet progress must remain affordable. Mobility is essential to our quality of life. That is why we all share the burden, not just the automotive industry. This must not rest upon our shoulders alone.”
BMW, which now has in its lineup 27 models that emit 140 g/km CO2 or less, will add hybrids to its portfolio in 2009 and will begin low-volume series production of 500 electric vehicles within 2008. Its Efficient Dynamics program to increase vehicle fuel efficiency has already cost the car maker around €1 billion so far.
“We must become more efficient in our development, and we need to cooperate more closely in the future. Also we need to standardize requirements,” Draeger asserted.
Thomas Weber, head of development and research at Daimler, agreed. “We need new mobility concepts. We are responsible to balance conflicting targets. That is our role as engineers," he said. "Yet, I believe in our capacity as an industry to manage change. We will need to pool expertise and work in alliances.”
The two leading industry managers sat side by side during the press conference and used every opportunity to show how much they are in line.
“To shoulder the cost of R&D, we need modularization to share the cost internally," Weber noted. "Modularization will help us to come up with different answers to different stories. For instance, we need solutions for creeping mobility in urban areas, and we also need solutions for long-distance traveling. There is no one silver bullet."
Weber also called for industry standards for some of the new propulsion technologies as soon as possible. "For instance, do we really need different batteries from each OEM?” Weber asked.
Despite the obvious need for the industry to work in closer cooperation, one area of growing conflict is emerging, noted the executives. “We are at a war for talent,” admitted Weber. “We need new engineering skills for the increasing electrification and the growing share of software. There is a huge trend for a completely new type of engineer, and there is a war to attract those people.”
Where does this put suppliers? Paul agreed with the strategic outlook of the two OEM managers. "We need to utilize our R&D spending more efficiently by a broader utilization of engineering results," he said. "International industrial standards are no contradiction to differentiation. What we need to pursue is differentiation without touching the base of the cost. This is where we all can get a lot better."
Asked about the transition process from current automobile technology to new technologies, Paul called this "an evolution, not a revolution."
Despite the current and foreseeable dramatic changes Weber predicted "a 20-to-30-year process with higher volumes of new technology cars from 2015. We are in the middle of the transition process."
The Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHYBRID may become a milestone on this path. It is announced for the middle of 2009 as the first series-hybrid car with lithium-ion batteries. Continental began production of the batteries for this model on Sept. 24 in Nuremberg.
To underpin the continuing importance of gasoline engine technology, Daimler showed its Mercedes-Benz F700 research vehicle at the FISITA exhibition. It is an S-class car that highlights the future potential of gasoline combustion. The DiesOtto-powered hybrid car has a fuel efficiency of 5.3 L/100 km and emits only 127 g/CO2 per km.
The F700 is equipped with about every feature of a modern downsized gasoline engine, including piezo-driven direct injection, two-stage turbocharging, variable compression ratio, plus closed-loop-controlled auto ignition during part-load operation.
The Euro 6-compliant 1.8-L engine produces up to 175 kW (235 hp) and is supported by a 15-kW (20-hp) disc-shaped starter-generator integrated in the housing of the 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission.