Navigant Research Blog

Taking the EV Mainstream

— September 19, 2017

The plug-in EV (PEV) is rapidly evolving to become a viable mainstream option for almost every car buyer. As ever with automobiles, there is no silver bullet solution. This year there are several unique variations on how best to serve the needs of drivers seeking to minimize energy use as the PEV landscape matures. Navigant Research’s EV Geographic Forecasts report projects 50% growth in North American PEV sales this year and market share of between 7% and 11% by 2026.

Design is always a matter of balancing priorities. Priorities can depend on the target market, how the vehicle will be used, and budgets.

Tesla’s Approach

Tesla is trying to build on the premium brand image it has cultivated while creating the impression of going mainstream. The Model 3 has been promoted as an affordable long-range EV with a price starting at $35,000. That will yield a spartan car. Most customers will actually be paying far more to include current options, bringing the price to at least $59,000, with additional performance options to be added later.

GM

General Motors (GM) took a different approach with the Chevrolet Bolt, opting for maximum possible electric range and utility while keeping the base price under $30,000 (after federal incentives). Even including all options, the Bolt is still less than $44,000 before incentives. While some reviewers have criticized the hard plastic interior, the vehicle’s real-world range, handling, and utility have garnered very positive feedback.

Hyundai and Nissan

Hyundai and Nissan, by contrast, have veered even harder toward trying to maximize the value proposition of their respective EVs. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Nissan LEAF both have starting prices before incentives below $30,000 and even highly equipped models will still only hit about $36,000.

The Ioniq, built on a dedicated electrified platform with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-only flavors, went for maximum efficiency with a slick five-door hatchback body strongly reminiscent of prior-generation Toyota Priuses and a moderately sized battery. Hyundai aimed to keep both cost and weight down with a 28 kWh battery, less than half the capacity of the unit in the Bolt. With its modest weight and low drag, that’s enough for 124 miles of driving range and a leading efficiency of 136 MPGe combined.

After trying out a slightly futuristic design with the original LEAF, Nissan decided it needed a more conventional look in order to get an audience beyond early adopters. While the five-door hatchback configuration and basic dimensions are carried over, the LEAF now incorporates contemporary Nissan design cues both outside and in the cabin. Aside from the propulsion system, it’s now just an ordinary compact hatchback. With a more efficient drivetrain and battery that has grown from 30 kWh to 40 kWh, the LEAF is now expected to go at least 150 miles on a charge, double what it did when it debuted in 2010.

Chrysler

Fiat Chrysler, which has long derided EVs, has now opted to build on one of its core strengths with the Pacifica Hybrid. Like Nissan, FCA is focusing on the ordinariness of the driving experience with its plug-in hybrid minivan. The key distinguishing feature is that it has 35 miles of real-world electric driving range, enough to meet most daily commuting needs without burning any gas. But as a family hauler that might be used for road trips, no additional planning of where to stop and charge is required.

Buyers of vehicles that burn fossil fuels have long had choices ranging from tiny sports cars to full-size trucks. We’re now reaching the stage where those that want to avoid gas stations have choices at increasingly affordable price points as well.

 

The Demise of the Uber Leasing Program

— August 22, 2017

Recently, Uber announced that it will discontinue the vehicle leasing program it has offered to drivers for the past 2 years. Average losses of $9,000 per leased vehicle were cited as the reason, but this only serves to highlight the problem that independent transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber, Lyft, and Didi are likely to face as the transition to automated vehicles (AVs) begins. Companies that currently operate with minimal physical assets, relying instead on independent contractors, will face a huge challenge surviving as standalone businesses when confronted with building or buying massive fleets of costly AVs.

The leasing program was designed to provide drivers operating on the Uber platform with access to new, well-maintained vehicles at a relatively affordable price that also included unlimited mileage and free maintenance. For passengers, knowing that a ride won’t be a broken-down rattle trap makes using the service much more appealing. Many of the drivers operating on these services don’t have the financial wherewithal to get a loan or a lease on a new vehicle, so the program seemed like a great path toward earning more money.

Since Uber doesn’t manufacture vehicles, it has to acquire them before leasing them to drivers. Wall Street banks loaned the company $1 billion in 2015 to get the program launched, but Uber’s lack of vertical integration means added costs at every level in the value chain. Losses originally projected to be about $500 per leased car increased 18-fold. This is not a formula for a building a sustainable enterprise.

Not Just Uber

Uber is not the only company acquiring cars. Following General Motors’ (GM’s) $500 million investment in Lyft in early 2016, the automaker launched Express Drive to provide low cost rentals of GM cars to Lyft drivers. Unlike Uber, GM has a ready supply of relatively new off-lease vehicles available. GM tapped this supply for Express Drive as well as its more traditional carsharing service, Maven, that also launched in 2016.

Like most other automakers, GM has a captive finance arm through which it could fund the program at lower cost than Uber. Repurposing off-lease vehicles for these mobility services reduces the supply of used vehicles in the market, helping residual values. Having these relatively new vehicles in the field also exposes people to contemporary GM products that may have a marketing benefit. The network of thousands of GM dealers can provide maintenance and repair services, something for which a TNC would likely have to pay a premium. In spring 2017, GM added Maven Gig, which provides similar low cost rentals to drivers on platforms beyond Lyft.

Vertical Integration Is Key

GM may be losing some money on the current Express Drive and Maven Gig programs. However, unlike the TNCs, the automaker is profitable and can afford to subsidize this effort. Doing so also helps to reduce potential losses in other parts of the business. For a TNC without this level of vertical integration, it’s unlikely such a program would aid in reaching net profitability in any realistic timeframe.

The same factors that benefit an automaker in this regard also come into play when looking at the deployment of automated mobility services. If Uber has to pay Volvo or some other automaker for very expensive vehicles, plus cover insurance maintenance and fuel, even eliminating the cost of drivers may not lead to profits. It’s likely that only acquisition by an automaker can save TNCs from extinction. Yet, that may only happen if their inflated valuations collapse.

 

Automated Driving Space Threatens to Follow App Store Revenue Model

— July 27, 2017

Ride-hailing provider Lyft has shifted course and decided to develop its own automated driving system, joining most of the major automakers, suppliers, technology companies, and hundreds of startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. If the smartphone app economy is any example, this is not a good thing for any of the new players. The land rush into this space seems eerily similar to what happened in the years after Apple began allowing third-party apps onto the iPhone. Lots of early players made some money and many of them got healthy buyouts, but the vast majority never made a dime.

As of 1Q 2016, studies of Apple App Store revenue showed that the top 1% of publishers took home 94% of the more than $1.4 billion generated. The vast majority of apps in the stores of Apple, Google, and other companies have never earned anything. A 2014 analysis of the more than 1.2 million apps then available in Apple’s store showed zero downloads.

And the Automated Vehicle Market?

Most of the startups jumping into the automated vehicle space are focused entirely on developing the control software while using off-the-shelf hardware. Unfortunately, for most of these new entrants, the software side is quickly maturing. It seems increasingly unlikely that anyone is going to make a huge algorithm breakthrough that is going to justify a high purchasing or licensing price as these vehicles start coming to market in the next few years. A few more big acquisitions like Cruise Automation may happen, but it is rapidly becoming a buyer’s market for automated driving startups.

While the software will continue to evolve as engineers learn how to make it deal with edge cases, the real effort now needs to be focused on the hardware side. The cost of sensors and compute platforms must come down along with power consumption. Sensors must get more robust to withstand the rigors of daily use in the real world outside the mostly perfect weather bubble of Silicon Valley. Everything has to be integrated into the rest of the vehicle and made to work in all climates. These are expensive and time-consuming activities that startups are ill suited for.

The Right Moves?

Companies like Waymo are making the right moves in developing both the hardware and software as well the mobility services component for deployment. They are also forming partnerships with automakers to provide vehicles, rental companies for servicing, and network companies like Lyft for additional deployments.

Until now, Lyft has focused on partnerships with vehicle providers, including General Motors (GM), Waymo, nuTonomy, and Jaguar Land Rover. For Lyft to decide to develop its own automated driving stack seems like a needless waste of resources for a company that has yet to approach profitability.

Too Many Players?

Navigant Research’s Leaderboard Report: Automated Driving ranked incumbent OEMs such as Ford, GM, Nissan, and Daimler, along with suppliers like Delphi and newcomers like Waymo, at the head of the pack. There are already too many players in a transportation ecosystem that is likely to see significant consolidation in the next 2 decades. Anyone entering now is far more likely to be the next Color than the new Instagram. Venture capitalists considering putting money into self-driving startups that will probably part of the 80% with zero downloads are probably looking at a race to the bottom as that technology becomes commoditized. They should instead be focused on interesting new kinds of services that build on the data emanating from those vehicles.

 

48V Electrification Adoption Accelerates with 2018 Audi A8

— July 13, 2017

Adoption of 48V light electrification is beginning to accelerate in Europe with the debut this week of the fourth-generation Audi A8 at an event in Barcelona, Spain. After launching a 48V system on the high performance SQ7 SUV in 2016, the A8 becomes the first model from the brand to adopt the technology along with mild hybridization as standard fitment across the lineup. This comes just a week after Volvo announced that it would make 48V mild hybrid powertrains standard on all of its vehicles between 2019 and 2021.

48V Vehicle Sales

Navigant Research’s Low Voltage Vehicle Electrification report projects that more than 9 million vehicles will be sold annually with 48V electrical systems by 2025. Europe and Asia Pacific will be the primary markets.

Annual 48V System Sales by Region, World Markets: 2016-2025

(Source: Navigant Research)

The A8 becomes the first vehicle on the market to utilize the 48V architecture as its primary electrical system. It will still include a 12V subsystem to support the many components such as infotainment and lighting that have yet to be redesigned to support the higher voltage. While last year’s SQ7 used its 48V subsystem primarily to support the addition of an e-turbo to the diesel V8 engine, the A8 harnesses 48V technology much more deeply.

From the production launch in the coming months, all gasoline and diesel A8s will have a belted starter-generator mild hybrid system. In addition to providing some electric propulsion assist, the system provides enhanced auto stop-start at speeds up to 13.7 mph; it can recover up to 12 kW of power through regenerative braking. The system will enable sailing with the engine off at speeds between 34 mph and 99 mph. This technology will be applied through all five engines that are planned for the A8. Audi also plans to offer a high voltage plug-in hybrid variant with more than 30 miles of electric range and wireless charging capability, but no on sale date has been announced yet.

Fuel Efficiency and More

While mild hybridization will enhance the A8’s fuel efficiency, the increased electrical power of the 48V system will also enable several new features on Audi’s flagship sedan. Among those is a fully active suspension system that can move the wheels and dynamically change the ride and handling characteristics of the vehicle. Many OEMs offer variations of adaptive and semi-active suspension, but Audi has added a unique element to its system. When an impending side impact is detected by the sensors, the suspension automatically lifts that side of the vehicle, bringing the side rail up closer to bumper height and providing additional protection to vehicle occupants.

In addition to adopting 48V electrification, Audi is pushing automation in its latest vehicle launch. The A8 features what is claimed to be the first Level 3 automated system. The Traffic Jam Pilot can provide fully automated driving at speeds up to 37 mph in heavy traffic on divided highways. It utilizes radar, camera, ultrasonic sensors, and the first production lidar scanner in an automotive application. Like Cadillac’s upcoming SuperCruise system, the Traffic Jam Pilot is designed as a hands-off system and features a driver monitoring system to ensure the driver is ready to take over if needed. If the driver falls asleep or appears tired, the system will provide alerts. If the driver doesn’t respond, the car will automatically pull over and stop. The system only works in traffic; as soon as things clear up or speed rises, it returns control to the driver.

Increasing levels of driving automation and electrification are coming to market quickly, and the new Audi A8 is another step in that direction.

 

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