Navigant Research Blog

Low Voltage Is the Entry Point to the Full Vehicle Electrification Spectrum

— May 11, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2There is little disagreement in the auto industry that the future of propulsion systems includes increasing levels of electrification. At some point in the future, the internal combustion engine will almost certainly fade into history. However, between now and that indeterminate future time, the comparatively low cost and incredible convenience of using liquid fuel-burning vehicles will ensure that they remain the most common form of transportation. Despite that, a full spectrum of electrification solutions will make these engines more efficient until we reach that future convergence point.

Recently, stakeholders from both the OEM and supplier sides of the automotive industry came together in a suburban Detroit hotel for the 3-day Low Voltage Vehicle Electrification Summit, which raised just as many (if not more) questions than answers about the potential for intermediate electrification. The statement that can be made with any degree of certainty is that there is no silver bullet on the horizon that will suit every application.

Stop-Start and 48V

Navigant Research’s Stop-Start Vehicles report projects that nearly 60 million vehicles annually will include at least basic automatic engine stop-start functionality by 2024, while the 48-Volt Systems for Automotive Applications report projects that more than 7 million vehicles will have 48V electrical systems over the same timeframe.

Stop-start capability with 12V electrical systems has already become relatively ubiquitous in Western Europe, and deployment is expected to expand rapidly in North America in the next several years. However, 12V systems are already being stretched to their limits with all of the power-drawing features and amenities included in today’s cars and trucks. With a practical power limit of 3 kW from a 12V system, the actual use of stop-start is often limited by the need to maintain power levels for essential systems such as the vehicle electronics.

With up to 10 kW available, the additional power capacity provided by a 48V system will enable engineers to deploy more capable semi and fully autonomous systems, which can draw up to 4 kW for the actuators under peak load transient conditions. More importantly, from an efficiency standpoint, 48V systems can enable energy recuperation, sailing at highway speeds, and engine shut-off at higher speeds before the vehicle comes to a complete stop. These enhanced systems can also provide sufficient power for electric superchargers and the electrification of ancillary systems such as oil and water pumps.

Not an Easy Transition

However, the transition is not as simple as installing a bigger battery and generator. Many existing vehicle systems will stay at 12V in order to take advantage of economies of scale, so there must be mechanisms to handle dual voltage. There is also the question of the best type of energy storage to use. Lithium ion batteries are lighter but more expensive and have poor cold engine start characteristics. Various types of advanced lead batteries such absorbed glass matt and lead carbon are already in use or in development, but they each have their own issues.

There is also the overall cost-benefit analysis as high-voltage electrification becomes more affordable. At what point does it make more sense to skip 48V, which can add $800 to $1,000 or more to the cost of a vehicle, and just go high-voltage?

These questions and many more will be discussed at the PlugVolt Battery Seminar taking place at the Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport Hotel from July 26 to 28. More than two dozen speakers will be on hand to discuss battery chemistry, automotive applications, and grid storage.

 

Google and Fiat Chrysler Team Up to Build New Fleet of Self-Driving Minivans

— May 3, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For the first time since Google began work on developing autonomous vehicle technology 7 years ago, the company now has an official relationship with an existing automaker. The technology giant is teaming up with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to build an expanded test fleet to accumulate more real-world miles. Engineering teams from FCA and Google will be colocated at an undisclosed facility somewhere in southeast Michigan to develop and build vehicles based on the new Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

Until now, Google has largely worked independently on its self-driving car program, purchasing Toyota Priuses and Lexus RX450s and installing the sensors and computing hardware necessary to have the vehicles drive themselves. More recently, Google contracted with Michigan-based Roush Engineering to build dozens of dedicated self-driving pod vehicles, but these were strictly low-speed electric machines limited to a maximum speed of 25 mph.

Approaching the Automakers

Several automakers have acknowledged off the record that they had been approached by Google over the past several years, but the business conditions set by Google were unacceptable. Essentially, Google wanted a company to build cars and turn them over for installation of a black box control system. Since it’s generally acknowledged now that automakers will be liable for the reliability and performance of autonomous vehicles, no company was willing to cede that much control to Google.

The hiring of former Ford and Hyundai executive John Krafcik as CEO of the Google Self-Driving Cars division last fall likely led to a change in attitude in Mountain View about how to collaborate with incumbent automakers. There had been speculation in late 2015 that Google would announce a partnership with Ford as early as the 2016 CES in Las Vegas last January, but the show came and went without an announcement.

For more than a year, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has been looking for a partner to merge with. Marchionne made an especially hard push for a merger with General Motors, but was repeatedly turned away. More recently, Marchionne has publicly stated that FCA would make an excellent partner to manufacture vehicles for Apple should the electronics company decide to get into the automotive business. Given FCA’s limited resources relative to larger rivals in Detroit, Europe, and Asia, a partnership with Google is likely the company’s best course of action right now.

FCA Developments

Navigant Research’s Leaderboard Report: Autonomous Vehicle OEMs from last year ranked FCA 14th among 18 OEMs evaluated for their work on autonomous vehicles. FCA has never publicly discussed or demonstrated an autonomous vehicle program, although it has been surprisingly aggressive in deploying advanced driver assistance systems to its model lineup in the past 3 years. Back in the mid-1990s, Chrysler also developed robotic driving systems that could be used to control vehicles running on a particularly harsh durability test track at its Chelsea, Michigan proving ground. Human drivers could only withstand short periods of driving on the course because of the pounding and it was hoped that an autonomous system could be used to conduct accelerated durability tests. The system was not sufficiently reliable at that time and was eventually abandoned.

The new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid was unveiled in January 2016 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and features FCA’s first in-house developed hybrid drivetrain. The plug-in hybrid features an 18 kWh lithium ion battery pack manufactured by LG Chem in Holland, Michigan and is capable of an approximately 30-mile all-electric driving range.

FCA and Google have not said when the new autonomous minivans will be ready for testing, but the 100 vehicle fleet will enable the two companies to significantly expand their collection of real-world data needed to make autonomous systems more robust.

 

Ford Decides to Stick with 100-Mile EVs – for Now

— April 29, 2016

EV RefuelingDuring the recent SAE 2016 World Congress in Detroit, there was much discussion among attendees and speakers about the future of electric vehicles (EVs). For the most part, there was agreement that a 200-mile nominal range on a charge will be the minimum needed to get mainstream customers to start accepting EVs as a viable transportation alternative. One notable exception to that opinion, at least publicly, came from Kevin Layden, Ford director of electrification engineering, who told Automotive News that a 100-mile range provided a better balance of weight and cost while meeting the needs of most drivers.

Not coincidentally, this fall, Ford is slated to release an upgraded version of its sole battery electric vehicle (BEV), the Focus Electric, with that same 100-mile range. There is little reason to doubt that Ford has no immediate plans to directly challenge the Chevrolet Bolt (which is set to launch at nearly the same time as the refreshed Focus) or the upcoming Tesla Model 3.

Late BEV Addition

The current Focus debuted in 2011 and the BEV variant was a late addition to program. In fact, it wasn’t even originally conceived by Ford. Engineers at supplier Magna International built a pair of prototypes in 2008 to demonstrate their EV engineering capabilities and Ford adopted the program late in the year as part of its recovery plan following the financial meltdown. The next-generation Focus was already well in development by that time, but Ford worked with Magna to adapt the electric drive system and battery packaging to the new model. The packaging results were less than optimal, with severely compromised cargo space compared to the competitors such as the Nissan LEAF or the later Volkswagen e-Golf.

While advances in battery technology in the years since have enabled Ford to boost the original 76-mile range to 100 miles, packing in twice as much capacity into this generation of the Focus would simply be impossible. Given that like other large automakers, Ford still needs to sell a certain number of plug-in vehicles (PEVs) every year in order to meet the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandates, and it’s no surprise that the priority right now is to sell the upgraded Focus Electric as is. Given the new competition from the Bolt, Ford will likely emphasize the starting price before incentives of $29,170 for the Focus, some $10,000 less than its original price in 2012.

More Models on the Way

While Ford marketing tries to sell the current-generation Focus Electric for the next 2 to 3 years, the product development team is no doubt working overtime to match or beat the benchmarks set by Chevrolet and Tesla for the next-generation model. In December 2015, Ford announced a $4.5 billion investment to launch 13 new electrified models by 2020 and the chances are excellent that at least one of those will be a 200-mile BEV that can sell for $30,000. The next-generation Focus platform is expected to debut in 2018 and Ford will likely have made allowances in the design to package larger batteries to meet the market demand for EV capability. During the 1Q 2016 financial results call on April 28, Ford CEO Mark Fields commented that the company wants to be in a leadership position on EVs, implying that Ford intends to build longer-range models in the coming years.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecast report projects global light duty BEV sales of almost 1.6 million in 2024, with nearly 462,000 in the United States. If manufacturers are to meet their individual sales targets under the California EV mandates, they will have to create products that are meet increasing customer expectations. With multiple manufacturers openly committing to affordable BEVs with 200 miles or more of range, only very inexpensive vehicles are likely to be deemed acceptable with less.

 

Toyota, Microsoft, and an Army of Software Bots to Deliver Contextual Driving

— April 15, 2016

Connected VehiclesA new Toyota subsidiary aims to provide drivers with autonomous contextual help via the assistance of software bot technology just announced by Microsoft. Skynet isn’t here just yet, but Toyota Connected Inc. represents just the beginning of where transportation is heading in the coming decades as we transition from personally owned vehicles to mobility as a service.

Bots, as they have become known in recent years, are basically just a relatively new type of app that usually runs on a server somewhere in the cloud. What makes bots special is their ability to tap into huge databases and take advantage of sophisticated machine learning to understand the meaning of a query. Those queries can come from either a human or another bot. One bot may collect information from any number of other bots, merging and presenting it to a human or vehicle interface at the edge of the cloud.

Cascade of Queries

A contemporary example might be a driver telling their car that they are hungry. This could trigger a cascade of queries that take your current location, stored data about your favorite kinds of food, finds a restaurant with an available table at a time based on how long it will take to arrive there, and returns a response of “Would you like a reservation at restaurant X at 6:45 p.m.?” All of this could stem automatically from that one original question with no further input from the driver.

Now imagine extending this concept 20 years into the future when we will have fleets of on-demand autonomous vehicles moving around cities, as projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper. Today, if you are leaving one appointment and heading to another, you pull out a phone, open the Uber or Lyft app, and request a ride.

In 2035, the mobile communicator that has replaced your phone reads your calendar, sees you have an appointment 20 minutes away, knows your current meeting will end in 5 minutes, and automatically summons a vehicle to your location so that it pulls up as you step out onto the sidewalk with no intervention. Several bots have contributed to this function, including one that provides weather data, another with real-time and historical traffic information, one to monitor your calendar, and another to handle billing for the mobility service of your choice, all without any direct input from the rider.

Bot Creation

At its Build 2016 developer conference on March 30, Microsoft announced the release of bot software development framework to simplify the task of creating bots. Toyota Connected plans to utilize the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to provide services to its customers utilizing data from telematics and vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications systems. These communications pathways can provide drivers with real-time alerts about slippery roads when a vehicle ahead triggers an automated braking system or stability control, and can also enable automatic re-routing to avoid congestion or reduce energy consumption.

Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects that more than 80 million vehicles will be sold with V2X capability in 2025. Contextual data moving through the air between bots in vehicles and in the cloud is expected to reduce energy use, improve road safety, and generally make life more convenient for everyone.

 

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