“The demand is greater than the supply”
More driving fun, architectural features, great potential: Marco Kollmeier, Vice President of the Business Unit E-Mobility, on the challenges and opportunities of e-mobility.
The numbers for new registrations of electric cars are increasing significantly, for example in Germany.* Can the high demand of car manufacturers be met at all?
At the moment, demand is actually greater than the supply. On the one hand, automobile manufacturers’ production capacity is not yet at a level that can satisfy demand. On the other, the number of new electric models, especially in the affordable B/C segment, is still very limited. Which means potential for manufacturers.
As a system supplier for e-mobility, we support them with our modular platform solutions. Based on these, electric vehicles can be built up fast, cost-effectively and, above all, reliably. This way, the automobile manufacturers save tedious and resource-intensive development.
Electric motors have fewer parts than combustion engines. This makes the production less complex. Does this also make the construction of electric cars easier?
Electric vehicles have fewer parts, but they are not easier to design or manufacture. On the contrary. The development poses major challenges for car manufacturers. Because electric vehicles require completely different approaches and engineering concepts compared to those we are familiar with in combustion engines. For example, when it comes to batteries, high-voltage control, fast charging and safety. Or the electric powertrain, which has to be accommodated in the vehicle.
As a global tier 1 supplier, we at BENTELER have the advantage of decades of system competence in vehicle development, vehicle structure and powertrain. At the same time, we provide special know-how in the field of e-mobility, which we are bundling in our own Business Unit.
You know both sides: In terms of architecture, what is the largest difference between a conventional and an electric car?
The electric vehicle doesn’t have a combustion engine, which is usually located at the front of the vehicle. The heart of the electric vehicle is the battery pack, which is located in the underbody. 'Combustion engine out, electric motor in' is not an option. This major change in architecture creates new challenges, but also opportunities. The front car and therefore the footwell respectively the whole body can be designed differently. This facilitates improved and new functions.
For example, thanks to the battery, the car has a lower center of gravity, which helps improve driving dynamics. Anyone who has ever driven an electric car knows this driving pleasure – not only because of the seamless acceleration of the electric motor, which has no torque dropout, but also because of the very good road holding.
What about safety? There have been recent reports of electric cars catching fire...
Crash management is a challenge, but that doesn't just apply to electric cars. Cars with combustion engines also catch fire. The rule with electrically powered vehicles is to give special protection to the battery pack. Which is why the associated battery box must have good crash-absorption properties, be very stiff and also absolutely leak-proof so that no fluids leak from the battery in the event of an accident. In the past ten years, crash management has developed significantly, and there are now very strict legal requirements. Building a safe and reliable electric car is definitely not easier; it’s a different and very complex undertaking. At BENTELER, we have many years of extensive experience in the production of battery trays. With our innovative folded trays for example. They are made from a single sheet of steel or aluminum. This offers improved battery protection because the shell is completely sealed.
There are always discussions about the eco-balance of electric vehicles – which is more environmentally friendly, electric or combustion engine?
If you look at the life cycle assessment including production and fuel savings over the entire life cycle, the electric car wins: most electrically powered vehicles have a better carbon footprint than cars with combustion engines after eight years – but they usually last much longer. Electric vehicles therefore help to reduce emissions in two ways: on the one hand, regionally in large towns, on the other, over the entire life cycle.
This will become even more important in the future as our way of life changes. Namely "Last Mile Delivery": we’re buying more and more online, using delivery services and ordering on demand. As a result, delivery traffic is increasing, especially in smaller inner-city areas, where it’s about the before-mentioned last mile to the customer. If you do this with electric vehicles, you improve the environmental balance significantly. Large postal organizations and international shipping services already do it this way. One online shopping service is even having its own electric delivery vehicle built.
We’re thinking a bit further ahead. In addition to cargo solutions, we’ve also developed a platform for new forms of local public transport together with our partner network. These are partially autonomous, electrically operated, barrier-free people movers for eight to 25 people. There are ever more vehicles like this in China. They are already in use in California and also in Germany, for example in Hamburg. This is happening more often – and we are thereby getting a little closer to emission-free mobility.
From our customers' point of view: what makes BENTELER special?
Regardless of which development stage our customers are in – we have the products, services and application options to make their e-mobility solution happen. This is made possible by our employees, our family of driven professionals: we help accelerate your business.
* In Germany: More than 220% new registrations of pure electric cars in August 2020 compared to the same month last year (source: ADAC – https://www.adac.de/news/neuzulassungen-kba/ )