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Continental Powertrain on electric mobility, challenges and solutions

Release Date:2018-08-20

Continental generated sales of some €44 billion last year, up 8 percent on 2016. One driver of growth is clean-air technology, which includes hybrid and electric drive systems, more efficient combustion engines, and systems for cleaner emissions. The supplier forecasts that 110 million vehicles will be manufactured in 2025 worldwide. About one in ten of those vehicles will be all electric and one in four will be a hybrid. And by that time, one in five will feature drive solutions from Continental. To learn more, we caught up with Nirad Pandya, Head of Strategy, Marketing and Communications Head of E-Mobility Programs, Engine Systems Business Unit, Powertrain Division, Continental Automotive.

What is the current primary focus of Continental powertrain research?

Among the technologies in our research focus are high-voltage battery charging systems, future battery cell technology, and powertrain efficiency increase with connected energy and thermal management, as key elements of future mobility.

Effective climate protection will need a mix of drive technologies made up of electric drive systems, clean diesel and gasoline engines, carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and fuel cells. Continental's R&D efforts, therefore, cover all these areas.

Where do you see the diesel market going? And are you concerned about the current trend to demonise diesel in Europe?

We already see a steady decline of diesel engine absorption in the passenger car segment, especially in the EU. We expect this decline to continue, and potentially stabilise at a lower diesel share level over the next few years. This decline is a result of both, public perception about diesel, and also the relative cost advantage of gasoline-powered vehicles, especially in the smaller car segments.

It is important that the facts about diesel engines are properly communicated. Diesel drives offer considerable fuel economy and CO2 emission advantages over other alternatives, especially for larger vehicles. Diesel fuel, under compression ignition, is capable of producing a very efficient combustion process. The challenge lies in exhaust gas cleaning, which requires additional technology, such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to remove harmful NOx emissions. These solutions are now widely available and as a result, 'clean diesel' is already a reality. These technical solutions pay off especially when they are used for bigger vehicles. For light trucks and commercial vehicles, diesel will remain the predominant powertrain for the foreseeable future.

What is Continental doing with respect to batteries for electric vehicles?

We have battery electronics and battery management in our portfolio. In the area of 48-volt batteries, Continental has entered in a JV with CTIC/CALB in China for the development and production of 48 Volt battery systems in March 2018. The battery cells are supplied by CALB and Continental contributes the battery management system.

With regards to high voltage battery systems, we will keep our options open. Making a technology decision too early is counterproductive and on the other hand entering too late would miss the market. We are monitoring progress very closely to identify the right technical solution at the right time.

Could you tell us your predictions for the proportion of hybrid and EVs by 2030? 

Worldwide, we expect vehicle production to increase to around 110 million vehicles by 2025. Electrified drive systems (EVs, full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, 48-volt hybrids) will increase their market share to around 30-40 per cent in 2025. For EVs and high voltage hybrids we see about 20-25 percent and for 48-volt mild hybrids about 15 per cent by 2025.

By 2030 in the world's mature automotive markets, almost 60 per cent of new vehicles could have some form of electrified drive. We expect cost-efficient 48-volt hybrids and full-electric vehicles (EVs) to achieve the highest quantities.

To what extent has greater functionality led to complex electrical architectures in modern vehicles?

The past 10-15 years have seen ever more combinations of powertrains and vehicle variants within each carmaker's fleet, which has already driven increasing complexity of the electrical, electronic (E/E) and software architecture. The onset of car-to-X connectivity, automated driving and electrification has further multiplied the E/E and software complexity in the modern car. Carmakers are therefore applying new architectural paradigms to simplify the E/E and software landscape to help them to cope with the complex variances in their fleets.

To what extent is the electrification of the vehicle driving more actuation as well as new sensor technologies?

Electrification is driving a strong need for more sophisticated thermal management which in turn drives the need for more actuation, for example electrically controlled coolant valves and pumps and also actuators in the refrigerant circuit.

Two aspects are supporting this trend: key components such as the battery, DC-DC-converters, on board-chargers and electric drive motors need thermal management to protect them from overheating. Secondly, a highly efficient thermal management system is needed to increase driving range while keeping the vehicle and battery cost in a reasonable range.

Even on hybrid vehicles, we see the need for more actuation. Some functions require continued actuation while the combustion engine is stopped. Therefore coolant, refrigerant, engine or transmission oil circuits require a switch from mechanical pumps or compressors to electrified solutions, which could either be full electric actuators for all driving conditions or additional auxiliary pumps that provide the needed function during engine stop.

From the sensor point of view, we expect to control mainly temperature and pressure, to extend as much as possible the xEV driving range and comfort. Sensors would also be needed to ensure the safety and durability of the components and vehicle.

Could you comment on the ways in which the megatrend for alternative fueled vehicles is driving innovation in sensors?

For alternative fuels with different blends, new sensors of fuel content identification are needed so that the control system can guarantee the same drivability, performance and emission with optimum fuel economy.  

From your perspective, what will the next generation of FCEVs have?

The next generation of fuel cell vehicles will offer a greater range without any loss of comfort. The power density will be increased with a simultaneous reduction of stack dimensions. The fuel cell system costs will be reduced due to re-use of combustion engine component parts and further development of key components. Component quality and durability will be increased by improvements of design and introduction of new production methods and automotive quality standards.

We hear that some OEMs are continuing to look at homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) as a way to improve efficiency. Does it have a future?

Yes, HCCI has potential because it tries to realise a 'best of both worlds' combustion - between diesel compression ignition and direct injected spark ignited gasoline combustion. This 'hybrid combustion' is achieved via ultra-lean (high air-fuel ratios) combustion of gasoline under high compression ratios. The resulting combustion provides very good fuel efficiency, thermal efficiency, and low emissions.

On the other hand, HCCI causes higher stress and wear on engine components like pistons, linkages, etc. It also requires higher fuel injection pressures compared to conventional gasoline direct injection engines. HCCI also is challenging to manage at low and high-temperature extremes. So HCCI requires a holistic approach to engine design and engine management. OEMs have to strike the right balance between the advantages vs. development and powertrain costs.

HCCI has already been adopted by some OEMs – some Japanese OEMs are particularly active with HCCI. 

What relevance will 48V electric architectures and e-boosters have for gasoline engines?

48-volt mild hybrids provide a very good balance between CO2 reduction and cost. We expect 48-volt hybrid architectures to capture an increasing share of the market between 2020 and 2025.

The continued legislative pressure on tank-to-wheel CO2 emissions reduction is already driving carmakers to adopt a share of electrified powertrains in their fleets. Furthermore, the steady reduction of diesel engines share (e.g. in the EU) is adding pressure on carmakers to electrify their gasoline powertrains.

High voltage electrification (battery electric, plug-in hybrids, full hybrids) is still an expensive alternative to pure combustion powertrains.

E-compressors, with a 48-volt hybrid architecture, provide an excellent means for carmakers to continue to downsize the combustion engine (for reduced CO2 emissions) and to compensate for the resulting performance loss with the targeted use of electrically actuated boost pressure.

Regardless of alternatively powered cars, what will be the most important technology for gasoline engines over the next decade?

Small, turbocharged, spark ignited gasoline direct injection engines will continue to significantly gain market share over the coming years. High injection pressures, up-to 350bar combined with turbocharging, advanced combustion management techniques, and gasoline particle filters will likely be the predominant engine technology well into the next decade.

Even in hybrid electrified architectures, either 48-volt or high-voltage, the gasoline direct-injection engine will likely remain predominant. 

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Dave Leggett,
Managing editor

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