Navigant Research Blog

Utilities Bet on Open Standards for PEV Charging

— August 10, 2017

Electricity as a transportation fuel has only been used in a few mass transit platforms like light rail that are large-scale megawatt consumers. These platforms have highly predictable load patterns, and these electricity consumers are generally visible to utilities because their load is large enough to require utility coordination on infrastructure development. The next step in transportation electrification, happening now, is the advent of light duty, individually owned plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). This is a step toward less predictable load shapes and less load visibility (not good from a utility perspective), but also one toward increased load and theoretically highly flexible load (which is good).

Understandably, utility interests in this new load have varied largely as a function of expected PEV adoption in a utility’s territory. Since the emergence of mass market PEVs in 2010, many utilities were skeptical of the potential for PEVs, in part because many initial market adoption forecasts turned out to be highly optimistic. However, with over 6 years of market development in the books that have witnessed marked advances in PEV capabilities alongside reduced costs—exemplified by the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3—utilities are coming around to the realization that a PEV strategy is a must. The latest example of this need is an investment from Energy Impact Partners (EIP) in the EV charging services company Greenlots.

This investment is an important indicator of utility interests because EIP is a utility investment group that represents a network of 47 utilities in 12 countries and this is its first investment regarding EV charging services. The investment is especially significant because Greenlots, which offers EV charging and energy management solutions, is one of the more vocal proponents of an open standards-based approach to charging network development.

In a sense, Greenlots is championing a system analogous to cell phone services in which the equipment (cell phone) is not tied to a service provider (e.g., Sprint, Verizon, etc.), allowing charging station owners to switch between service providers as they see fit. This is not the way PEV charging services originated. Many early installations were and continue to be tied to a manufacturer’s hardware and management software platforms. When or if these manufacturers fail (as happens with emerging markets), their installed equipment can become ineffective.

Beyond the concern of stranded charging units, the evolution of PEV charging encompasses a variety of services for which no one company is likely to have the best solution. Therefore, vendor lock-in could be detrimental to preventing obsolescence. Equipment-agnostic services can include the dynamic management of PEV load in time with grid operator pricing signals, the discharging of power from vehicle into infrastructure, vehicle energy information interfaces for consumers, and streamlined payment and transaction management systems, among others. Flexibility among major consumers (utilities, energy service companies, and/or property owners) to pick among such solutions can reduce costs while enhancing the ability to share data from multiple services.

 

New OEM Products and Investment Boost Light EV Market

— August 1, 2017

Various light EV (LEV) technologies are emerging to address the congestion, poor air quality, and lack of mobility options negatively affecting transportation markets around the world. LEVs include low speed EVs—also referred to as neighborhood EVs—and electric-powered two-wheel vehicles such as electric motorcycles (e-motorcycles) and electric scooters (e-scooters). These vehicles offer the ability to improve personal mobility while simultaneously reducing pollution from the transportation sector, which are attributes desired by government authorities and citizens alike. In contrast to private cars, LEVs occupy less physical space, contributing less to traffic congestion and providing more flexibility in where they can travel and be parked. Additionally, these vehicles are generally more affordable and have lower capability requirements than full-sized EVs. Due to these advantages, electricity is more competitive with light vehicles compared to the full-sized vehicle market.

Significant OEM Announcements

Leading automotive OEMs, such as BMW and Mahindra, are recognizing the opportunities in the LEV market, and both companies made industry headlines in July. BMW Motorrad released its X2City e-scooter, designed for a variety of urban mobility applications. The kick e-scooter has a foldable steering unit (for easy storage) and a top speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph) and an electric range of 25 km-35 km (15-22 miles). Rather than distributing the X2City through the BMW Motorrad dealer network, the e-scooter will be sold in bike shops and online by the end of 2017. It is expected to retail for about €2,500 ($2,950).

Indian conglomerate Mahindra Group announced that it will double its investment in the United States, adding another $1 billion in funding. The Mahindra GenZe e-bike and e-scooter brands are key to Mahindra’s North American strategy, which is disruptive to traditional transportation technologies. GenZe recently announced a partnership with the on-demand delivery company Postmates. It will be supplying LEVs in the company’s New York and San Francisco operations and will expand to supply more delivery vehicles to Postmates’ network of 200 cities over the next year.

Market Opportunities

Increasing urbanization and government policies are pushing consumers in heavily populated cities to move away from full-sized cars for motorized transportation, creating opportunities for LEVs. Navigant Research expects the market for LEVs to expand significantly over the next 10 years. According to Navigant Research’s Light Electric Vehicles report, revenue generated by global LEV unit sales is expected to more than double over the next 10 years—growing from a $9.3 billion market in 2017 to $23.9 billion by 2026.

The market will be driven by continued declines in technology costs, advances in technology capabilities, and positive national and local regulatory policies. Unlike other large EVs, the purchase price of LEVs in most markets is closer to their internal combustion engine equivalent. LEVs also have lower licensing and crash test requirements compared to other vehicles, easing adoption for businesses to produce them and for consumers to purchase them. While the market for LEVs is improving, several obstacles still need to be overcome. These obstacles include low retail gasoline prices, relatively high purchase costs, and technology limitations.

 

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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