In times of change, treading unconventional paths can lead quickly to success. Some engineers attending the 2010 Steinbeis symposium on “Electronics in the Automotive Engineering” were probably secretly wishing they could rid themselves of the shackles of big organizations and conventional thinking, go out to green- field sites, and start afresh – in exactly the unorthodox way Tesla Motors did. The American company has now completed “Phase 1”: interest in e-autos has been aroused. Now it’s time for industry to add its experience – a sure recipe for excitement.
After all the experimentation, Phase 2 now begins: preparing for industrialization. This was the subject of a number of speeches and debates at the Steinbeis symposium in April 2010, where the main focus was “Electrics and electronics on the road towards electromobility”. With higher quality and safety requirements, all-round standardization, and, in particular, lower-cost components and systems, the task now is to establish a basis for larger batches of electric and hybrid cars. Coordinated by Dr. Dirk Walliser of MBtech Group, this year’s symposium continued its newly established tradition of aiming to solidify the basic understanding of electrics and electronics in the automotive sector.
Since 2006, this has entailed keeping pace with changes in propulsion technology, and repeatedly edging forward on key issues and important crossroads, plus much more. The commitment of the organizers was particularly well rewarded this year, not least thanks to the speakers, who helped clarify some already-resolved issues and spell out the challenges ahead in the field of electric drive trains. The speeches touched on all stages of the process chain, from initial concepts of E/E architecture in the early stages of development, to production and subsequent diagnosis of high-voltage systems. Many of the speeches adopted a consultative approach, emphasizing the challenge of keeping power electronics at a suitable temperature, underscoring the relationship between chemistry and electronics in battery systems, and also looking at component specifications and how they have yet to be adapted to high-voltage systems in cars.
The German automotive industry is still finding its bearings, so there are many unanswered questions. Much of the discussion at the Stuttgart symposium was tinged not just with an atmosphere of excitement, but also perplexity. The mood is endemic across the entire industry. It is impossible to predict development and unit costs. This is the biggest challenge facing engineers and key decision- makers – technology does not hold the answer to everything. Business needs leadership, plus a measured dose of psychology.
This became clear during the panel discussion with Dr. Hermann Scheer, member of the German Federal Parliament, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize and promoter of the “solar age”. On the panel with Scheer were Dr. Wolfgang Bernhart (Roland Berger Strategy), Arwed Niestroj (Daimler) and Arno Mathoy (Brusa Elektronik). The discussion embarked on a quest for future business models, with the question “Will we be buying cars, energy or mobility in the future?”
Summarizing the experts’ responses, they agreed that the only area where we are holding ourselves back is in believing in change and new ways of thinking. The understandable demands from Scheer – for a turning point in energy production and decentralized electricity supplies – are being overshadowed by the acute problems and mindsets of automotive companies and their advisors. How and when will we have affordable electric cars on our roads? And who will be the first to buy this new technology while it remains expensive? Key questions that dictated the panel discussions. It stills seems to be chicken and egg: waiting for the market, rather than stimulating it market and reshaping it with new ideas. Mathoy, a specialist in electric motors, adopted a confident tone which was mirrored by his enthralled audience: a vision of a sea-change in mobility, and sensitive customers longing for the first electric cars. The critical mass of potential buyers is ready and waiting.
Author: Markus Schöttle, ATZelektronik