Continental presents technologies for the transition to electric powertrains
Among the industry-first examples of battery applications, power electronics, electric motors, and energy management, which the head of Continental’s Powertrain Division listed as R&D focus topics and prototypes is the series production of electric vehicle traction motors without rare earth magnets.
At the same time Avila confirmed that Continental continues to improve the combustion engine technology. “The combustion engine needs to be further optimized to fulfill its task without overly impacting climate and environment. After all, 95 % of all vehicles manufactured over the next 10 years will still have a combustion engine,” he said.
Yet, there is no clash between electrification and the combustion engine, Avila is convinced: “To make the combustion engine fit for the oncoming transition period requires the help of electrification. The transition from fossil fuel to electric energy will not be abrupt but continuous. Our goal is to help make that transition as smooth and as successful as possible.”
To illustrate the challenges of electrifying individual mobility, Avila presented highlights from the Continental Mobility Study, a large international study, carried out by market research institute Infas on behalf of the automotive supplier in 2011. According to the study, the price of e-vehicles is the biggest hurdle for mass acceptance, which combines with range anxiety. Moreover motorists’ concerns about range appear to be more anxiety than reason: “Even drivers who typically only travel short distances of up to 30 km worry greatly about the possibility that the vehicle range is insufficient. According to the 4,000 people surveyed, cars are actually parked most of the day and during the night, which offers plenty of charging time. Therefore we do not only need technological solutions, we also need open communication.” Avila’s bottom line was: Motorists are still in their very early learning curve about e-vehicles but they are “open to electromobility.”
To make electromobility affordable, standardization on the component level will help to resolve the chicken and egg dilemma of low manufacturing numbers and resulting cost levels, the manager explained. On the technology side electrified powertrains may require a whole list of new solutions. This includes a new form of energy management in the car. “In an electrified vehicle different forms of energy have to be considered and have to be coordinated. Ideally this will go beyond the level of the individual car. Predictive Energy Management, based on car-to-x networking, can bring about remarkable improvements in fuel efficiency. It can help to make the best use of the existing battery capacity and to maximize range”, Avila said.
Networking cars with the Internet and cell phones is a core requirement of electromobility: “To get the most out of the limited battery capacity, the driver needs to have access to all sorts of relevant information. This includes weather, traffic situation, route topography options, and available charging stations. E-vehicles will massively benefit from being ‘Always On’”
New solutions for heating the cabin of an electric vehicle without increasing the demand on the traction battery are also among the activities Continental is currently working on.
In e-vehicles, even seemingly straightforward vehicle functions such as the brakes are more challenging: “In a hybrid or electric car the blending of wheel brakes and regenerative braking requires a complete separation of the brake pedal from the braking system." Avila mentioned that Continental has developed an integrated electro-hydraulic braking system to optimize.
Avila concluded his speech by saying: “Electromobility is still young but it is coming of age now. There is much momentum behind e-vehicle development. At Continental alone roughly 1,600 specialists are working either on further developing existing concepts or on innovations for hybrid and e-vehicles. Electromobility has the potential to become a cornerstone of sustainable individual mobility.”