With electric vehicles now able to travel further on a single charge, the next challenge is to make EV production cheaper and easier. Component selection has a vital role to play.
Next to price, the biggest problem holding electric vehicles back has always been range. With Tesla’s flagship Model S sedan hitting 337 miles on a charge, that’s no longer a problem. Other manufacturers are also claiming attractive numbers with GM’s Chevy Bolt offering a range of 258 miles and Nissan’s Leaf claiming 168 miles.
Now the race is on to mass produce in order to lower prices. Typically, most of an EV’s powertrain and drivetrain are separate issues. Electric motors, transmissions, power electronics and batteries are packaged much like a fossil-fuelled car’s combustion engine. The challenge for OEMs is how to integrate components to make design and production easier and more efficient and thus, more profitable. By incorporating components such as inverters and motor controllers into fewer modules, OEMs can save costs, weight, and space.
Consider how easy assembly would be if the transmission, motor and power electronics were a single unit. Packaging individual electric driveline elements is complex and time consuming, whereas an integrated system has just one unit to be installed. Assembly is essentially connecting the unit to the battery and cooling circuit, which will speed up the production process immeasurably.
The main electric powertrain components consist of the battery, motor, power electronics and thermal management. Research by McKinsey notes that this increased integration in the design of electric cables connecting these components. It highlights a marked reduction in both cable weight and the number of parts in newer EVs when compared to earlier models.
EV drivers are extremely tech-savvy, McKinsey’s research also points out. To accommodate those customers and enhance their driving experience, EV manufacturers are expected to equip cars with high-tech thrills such as advanced driver assistance, connectivity and the latest advances in navigation. Touch screens are replacing buttons, too with many OEMs improving the user interface and infotainment by integrating the control of interior functions into a more central user interface, similar to a smartphone.
These advances are thanks to the incredible rise in computing power. While typical cars tend to contain decentralised and standardized engine control units, the latest EVs appear to rely on increasingly centralized computing power.
The ECU architecture can also affect weight and cost. For example, centralising may maximise wiring and sourcing efficiency through increased bundling. They require simpler protocols and fewer connections compared to multiple, decentralized ECUs. That, in turn, reduces the number of operations that could go wrong, all of which means centralised ECUs might translate to greater reliability.
For the integration of transmission technology to happen, however, traditionally separate teams will have to work together. Motor, power electronics, software and transmission components were previously designed in isolation and then connected with plugs, cables and harnesses.
Integrating systems will involve integrating teams. While the core technologies will remain the same, components will have to be redesigned. With a range of over 30,000 products for the manufacture of powertrains, fuel systems, HVAC, steering, interiors, body/chassis, brakes and electrical equipment, Essentra Components can help – from shipping plugs and fasteners, to tapes and twist ties.
With an eye very much on the electric vehicle market, Essentra also has a package of EV charging components to simplify production of charging infrastructure, such as charging stations, which demand particular public facing safety considerations.