Ethical consumers are making green traits a key part of their buying decisions, but they are not willing to sacrifice pricing, reliability, or convenience. To meet this vexing challenge, engineers are going to have to change the way they design products while also changing the types of products they develop.
Collaboration between a broader range of design teams will be a central aspect, according to panelists on an SAE 2009 World Congress session titled Electronics in the Green Space. For some, that collaboration will extend out to the utility companies that provide power for battery recharging.
As they focus more on communication with more design teams, engineers will also continue to expand their use of modeling and simulation, panelists noted. Today’s problems have so many variables that it is no longer practical to explore the trade-offs without help from powerful computers.
“Modeling will be a key part of hybrid development,” said Jerry Klarr, Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Director for AVL Powertrain Engineering Inc. “We’ll also be more reliant on software in the loop, hardware in the loop, and autocoding.”
Panelists agreed that the trend toward electric motors will grow. These motors will see more use in power steering and other areas.
“All the belts you see on an engine today will be replaced by electric motors and electronic controllers,” said Robert Schumacher, General Director of Advanced Products & Business Development for Delphi Electronics.
Though hybrid sales are sluggish now, most World Congress speakers feel that the long-term future of the industry includes a major push to electrify transportation. That is partially driven by consumers who include ethical behavior in their purchasing decisions. Many feel that the current apathy surrounding hybrids is a temporary setback.
“It’s really a matter of economics that drove people away,” said John Schneider, Chief Engineer for HMIs and Infotainment at Ford Motor Co. “A stronger economy coupled with rising fuel prices will bring more customers back.”
Lower price premiums and higher reliability will be big factors that help make hybrids more attractive. A shift to lithium-ion batteries is expected to help reduce the size of battery packs and increase storage capabilities. Though Li-ion batteries are widely used in cell phones and other small consumer products, that doesn’t mean they’re suitable for harsh highway conditions.
“Li-ion and power electronics are there, but the technologies are not ready for automotive applications,” said Shawn Slusser, Automotive Business Vice President for Infineon Technologies. “We need six-foot battery packs, not six-millimeter batteries.”
Getting these components will require closer connections with suppliers, panelists noted. Partnering at many different levels will be a requirement going forward. “Through collaboration, we can improve both the cost and time of a project,” Slusser said.
Improving communication between various design teams will help engineers reign in expansion in the number of controllers in a vehicle. These controllers are becoming a significant factor in vehicle pricing.
“One of the cost drivers is the controls in a vehicle; today there are 30, 40, or 50,” said Jeffrey Klei, President of Continental’s NAFTA Region. “We’ve got to get that down to 10 or 15.” One reason for the high number of controllers is the focused nature of most design teams.
Engineers working in body and chassis rarely work closely with teams from powertrain or other areas, so they don’t have a way to discover synergies that could help them reduce the controller count.
“The funny thing is, the biggest obstacle is us, OEMs and suppliers,” Schumacher said. “No one is forcing teams to work together.”
Communication within Tier 1s and OEMs will help alleviate these issues. For some managers, collaboration will have to extend much farther. The trend to plug-in vehicles will put pressure on the utility companies that may eventually have to figure out how to recharge millions of cars.
That will require systems that charge battery-powered cars late at night when demand is low.
“If you plug in all the electric vehicles in the middle of a hot day, it’s going to cause a big problem,” Schumacher said.
That will require a major effort involving many players. “Industry has to pull together, maybe the SAE should play a role,” Slusser said. “We need to pull together with input from utility companies, government, universities, and automotive OEMs.”