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.
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.
The 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.