The automotive powertrain saw its first application in Karl Benz’s engine in 1885 and it has come a long way since then. Benz’s innovation was followed, enhanced and unlearned by many others over last 135 years to arrive at the automotive powertrain as we know it today. Now, the automotive world is focusing on alternative powertrain to address the environmental concerns and in recent years we have witnessed ample technological enhancements in the e-powertrain industry,it is gaining momentum but a great deal remains to be done. A domino effect has been set into motion and as per the industry’s frontrunners “Whatever we see in the ecosystem today, might be totally different in next 10 to 15 years.”
The transportation industry is responsible for 30% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and road transportation accounts for 72% of that. The average gasoline car emits approximately 6 tons of carbon dioxide every year. If the fuel does not undergo complete combustion, then the tailpipe emits carbon monoxide which is quadruple times deadlier. These polluting by-products, unless controlled and eliminated, pose great threats.
Global corporate giants (not restricting to automotive industry) are investing tons of time and money to fix these issues and are promoting sustainability. Additionally, governments worldwide are inching towards practices that reduce and eventually stop environmental degradation. They have come up with schemes such as Low Emission Zones (LEZ) and Zero Emission Zones (ZEZ). An example of this is London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is the world’s first 24-hour ULEZ that aims to reduce congestion in city central. If the vehicles in the zone do not satisfy the emission standards, they incur penalties and depending on the time of day, drivers will have to pay congestion charges. Correspondingly, Governments have formulated stricter emission standards and are encouraging their citizens to go electric. Electrification is the need of the hour and we need to act quickly. This has further propelled the OEMs to invest time and energy in EVs and they are working rigorously to make them conventional.
The electric car is further pushed into the limelight with non-conventional players such as Tesla coming in the forefront. Various options are being tried, tested and improved, including hybrid engine (fossil fuel plus electric motor combinations) and that day is not far away when electric vehicles will be available for the masses worldwide.
This revolution in powertrain has ushered us into a whole new era. I have christened this phase in time as “Auto-eMobilitynaissance” and it will go down in history as a period of technological disruption that led the automotive world to a new order of balance. The resilient efforts of Auto-eMobilitynaissance phase will overcome the present challenges and roll out multiple new technologies all thanks to the Leonardo da Vincis and Michelangelos of the industry. Ability to keep changing will be the only constant, then.
Now, the questions that arise are why is it taking time? Why haven’t we adopted the electric vehicles more rapidly? Well, the reason being, there are certain challenges we need to overcome first. The major concerns that have got the industry’s experts scratching their heads over are procurement of battery elements, making it commercially viable and the infrastructure support. Let us look at each of these problems in detail. Firstly, the key elements of the battery such as lithium and cobalt are minerals that are available only in certain geographic locations of the world, lithium is found inLatin America, Australia and China. On the other hand, cobalt is majorly obtained from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Naturally, procuring these elements is an expensive and tricky task considering the transportation costs and the governmentnorms that regulate the supply chain. Secondly, it is essential for the battery management systems to be commercially viable to be more market-attractive. However, making it cost-effective and yet have high-performing battery systems is a “work in progress”, resulting in the electric vehicles being more expensive and thus, less attractive. Finally,the infrastructure is the next roadblock. Access to fast re-charging and widespread charging stations are essential for mass adoption of EVs. Poor range and limited accessibility have been bottlenecks for EVs for quite a while now. All of this consequently leads to a market mindset which is averse to buying EVs. Moreover, the constantly evolving technology worries the buyer and raises question like “What if I buy an EV today and it turns out to be outdated in just a couple of years? What will be its resale value?” and these are very valid. The consumers are waiting for the EV technology to reach a sense of maturity before they invest in them, but the EV market is unable to reduce cost or improve infrastructure without sales of the vehicles. You see, it is a classic chicken-and-the-egg case.
One possible way to overcome these challenges is by collaborating. OEMs may realize that each of them are going in the same direction and can help each other to get out of the slump. We have already seen such a move, in June this year BMW and Jaguar Land Rover joined hands for development of next generation Electric Drive Units. This trend may gain momentum as we move forward and many more such consortiums shall be formed.
There is good chance the automotive industry would see new players emerge, we are seeing a few of them already – Rivian, Future Mobility, Nio and many more will join the race. For all we know, a newbie might take everyone by surprise and become the next auto giant and possibly that giant is still working on his/her idea in a garage somewhere.
The electric powertrain once perfected is surely cleaner and better than the fossil fueled powertrain in more than one way. But does it really put an end to all our climate and environmental concerns? What about disposal of used batteries? What about the carbon footprint and emissions we will generate during the manufacturing of these electric vehicles? Well, that could be the next hot topic to address, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there!
Business Leader for Mechatronics Practice
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