Dr. Barbara Jörg: Electromobility – Challenges and opportunities for automobile suppliers

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Manufacturers in the automobile industry are employing a diversified strategy on their way to a sustained and eco-friendly mobil­­­ity: “Save – Supple­­ment – Substitute”.

The medium and long-term objective of the diversified strategy is reducing de­­pend­­ency on fossil fuels and ultimately re­­plac­­ing them. Hydrogen and electric­­­ity from renewable sources are the alter­­­na­­tives to oil, petrol and diesel. How­­ever, climate-neutral mobility cannot be achieved with technical solutions alone. Moreover, the entire traffic system must become more efficient. This requires the development of mo­­bil­­ity concepts, such as car-sharing models, networking op­­tions be­­tween dif­­ferent modes of trans­­port and telematics solu­­tions. In addition, smart grids are re­­quired to network energy suppliers and consumers with one another. In 2010 the state of Rhine­­land-Palatinate found­­ed the Netz­­werk Elektromobilität (elec­­­tro­­­­mobilty net­­­­work) (www.emobil-rlp.de), which to­­gether with the automobile sup­­plier initia­­tive and the Commercial Vehicle Cluster Süd­­west, serve as contacts for suppliers from the automo­­bile industry on issues in­­volving electromo­­­bility to mutually sup­­­­port the devel­­­op­­ment of mobility concepts and infrastruc­­tural supply networks as well as decentral­­­ised energy management.

Electromobility in Rhineland-Palatinate is for one shaped by medium-sized supply companies who already have com­­­­po­­nents for hybrid and 100 per cent electric ve­­hicles in their portfolio and who dis­­tin­­guish themselves through innovative devel­­opment pro­­­jects in the performance elec­­­­­tronics, cyber­­netics, sen­­­sor technol­­ogy, high-voltage safety and reliability/diagnos­­­tics segments. On the other hand, the agri­­cultural ma­­chine manufacturer John Deere with its European devel­­opment centre in Kaisers­­­lautern is shaping the future of electro­­mobility in the com­­mer­­cial vehicle sector. In this, John Deere is not focussing solely on vehicles, but rather it is also working on making self-sufficient farms a reality. The farmer of the future is to be able to supply ve­­hicles, stables, buildings and, if possible, small villages with renewably-pro­­duced energy. An important requirement for real­­ising self-sufficiency is the development of suitably high-performance, stationary storage mediums. The Rhine-Neckar metro­­politan region’s StoRegio cluster is working flat out to achieve this. These efforts are supported by medium-sized companies who have pro­­ducts for the charging infra­­struc­­ture in their portfolio or focus exten­­sively on IT-based solutions for smart grids. Elec­­tro­­­­mobility and IT as well as mobility con­­cepts are research subjects at Uni­­versity of Kaisers­­lau­­tern, the Fraun­­­­hofer Insti­­tutes and the Ger­­man Re­­search Center for Artificial Intelligence. In addi­­tion, the University of Applied Scienc­­es Bingen fo­­­­cuses on topics in electro­­mo­­bil­­ity. What all research institutions share is the widespread will­­ingness to cooper­­ate with medium-sized companies in Rhine­­land-Palatinate.

One of the main challenges faced by the supplier industry is to integrate high-per­­­­form­­­­ance electronics architecture into the com­­plete vehicle at an early develop­­ment stage. The existing on-board power supply of 12 or 24 volts must be combined with the high-voltage technology for the e-drive in electric vehicles. In addi­­tion, there is the issue of communi­­ca­­tion be­­­tween the e-vehicle with its environ­­­­ment (communication with other vehicles and traffic management systems and en­­quir­­ies on available charging stations). These functions require a network of con­­­trol de­­­­vices and cables that significantly in­­crease the weight of the vehicle. Light­­­­weight solu­­tions are needed to avoid this; a segment in which a large number of sup­­ply companies from the plastics sec­­tor are not only active, but also successful. The Rhine­­land-Palatinate com­­­­­­­­­petence net­­­­­work Kom-K-Tec (www.kom-k-tec.de) at the Insti­­tute for Com­­­posite Ma­­terials Kai­­sers­­lau­­­­tern in parti­­cu­­lar assists ve­­hi­­­cle manu­­fac­­turers and suppliers on issues in­­volving metal substitution. To en­­sure the perfor­­mance and functional ca­­pa­­bil­­i­­ties of indi­­­­vidual system components and the com­­ponent assembly, supply com­­­­panies must conduct extensive test runs via simulation at an early stage of product development. They are supported by specialised small and medium-sized com­­panies and research institutes in the science location Kaiserslautern.


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And even if the development of systems components or electric vehicles is taking large steps forward, it will still take a long time be­­fore electric cars establish themselves on the market. Lim­­ited range and high costs for the battery prevent potential customers from investing in ve­­hicles with alternative drive technology. The same applies to hydrogen drive tech­­nology. This in particular applies to the commercial vehicles sector. Here the in­­dustry has also developed a wide range of alternative drive concepts. Along with natural gas engines, such as the ones Mercedes-Benz in Rhine­­land-Palat­­i­­nate in­­stalls in their special vehi­­cles built in Wörth, there are parallel and se­­rial hybrid drives, dual-fuel engines, electric drive or fuel cells in commercial vehicles being devel­­oped or are already in series pro­­­­­­duc­­tion. High extra costs and lim­­i­­ta­­tions in the range keep transport entre­­preneurs from investing in these in­­no­­­­vations. Initial work is focussing on electrifying aux­­iliary con­­sum­­ers to further reduce the fuel consumption of heavy long distance lorries or agricultural and construction machines. This is the focus of a key project by the Commercial Ve­­hicle Cluster, in which re­­searchers from Uni­­versity of Kaisers­­lau­­tern are work­­ing together with manu­­­­fac­­turers from the three commercial ve­­hi­­cle segments on solutions with which the consumption and thus CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced.

Alternative drives and electromobility are confronting both the automotive supply industry in Rhineland-Palatinate and manu­­facturers of commercial vehicles with changed value creation structures and a transition from engineer-driven products to integration solutions and systemic service innovation. These changes could re­­sult in the loss of jobs at traditional supply companies. The alternative drive technologies will in any case result in more complex value creation networks. Thus in future it will be of particular importance for medium-sized companies to be networked and work in alliances. Support is provided by the cluster initiatives and networks established in the state.

 

 

Porträtfoto-Jörg-KopieThe author studied economics at the Re­­gensburg University. From 1987 to 1991, she was a research assistant at the Uni­­versity of Kaisers­­lau­tern, where she also gained her doctorate. For more than eight years she headed the business development Kaiserslautern and was sub­­se­­quent­­ly employed at the Rhineland-Palatine Min­­istry of Economics. She has been the Man­­aging Director of the Com­­mercial Vehicle Cluster (CVC) since 2008.