October 11, 2023

Three concurrent technological transformations in the automotive industry: Electrification, Digitalization and Circularity

The automotive industry is expecting a significant shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce emissions and help combat climate change.
Technology Transformations
By Eugen, in Advanced Technologies

The automotive industry is expecting a significant shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce emissions and help combat climate change. EVs bring with them a host of new opportunities to enhance the driving experience – including increased connectivity and digitalization.  Plus, the rise of connectivity and digitalization in vehicles has paved the way for additional business innovation. Traditional automakers and start-ups alike are exploring innovative business models like car subscriptions and shared mobility services. These models aim to provide consumers with flexible and convenient access to vehicles while optimizing resource utilization and minimizing cost. Users can subscribe to a car for a specified period, paying a monthly fee that covers insurance, maintenance, and other associated costs. This approach will lead to a significant increase in relevance of Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO) for fleet and future service providers. It will also lead to higher demand for predictive maintenance technologies. 

IAA Munich 2023 highlighted advancements in vehicle user experience like integrated infotainment systems that enable users to make purchases directly from their vehicles. From parking, entertainment or dedicated autonomous driving functions, drivers can interact seamlessly with a myriad of services, enhancing convenience and offering a tailored driving experience. Additionally, Over-the-Air (OTA) functionality embedded within the vehicle allows manufacturers to remotely update software and firmware in vehicles, enabling continuous improvements, bug fixes, and new feature deployments for vehicles without requiring physical visits to service centers. This technology will require an adapted electrical/electronic (E/E) architecture and the industry is driving toward zonal architecture. Traditionally, vehicles have had a flat E/E architecture, where each electrical function is controlled by a dedicated unit. Zonal E/E architecture divides the vehicle into different zones, each with its own dedicated control units, resulting in increased flexibility, scalability, and overall system efficiency. In addition, OEMs can reduce wiring complexity leading to lighter and more cost-effective vehicles. 

Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) take the potential changes to the driving experience one step further.  While still emerging, one of the key technology enablers for this, beside the Zonal E/E architecture shift, is the implementation of the Steering by-Wire (SBW) technology. SBW replaces the traditional mechanical linkage between the steering wheel and the wheels with electronic “wire” systems. By employing various sensors, actuators, and control modules, SBW allows for more precise and flexible control over the steering mechanism. This technology offers a range of safety features that go beyond what traditional systems can achieve like: customizable driving modes, efficient operating costs, and autonomous steering control under certain circumstances (e.g., lane-keeping assistance, collision avoidance, and parking assistance). Integrating SBW requires robust and reliable communication systems, data fusion from multiple sensors, and seamless integration with other vehicle functions. While SBW presents numerous advantages, there are challenges that need to be addressed, such as cybersecurity, redundancy, and regulatory compliance.  

In the context of Steering by Wire (SBW) technology, redundancy refers to the implementation of backup systems and multiple layers of protection to ensure the system's reliability and safety. It is necessary to ensure that a failure in any component does not compromise the functionality of the system, which is crucial for maintaining vehicle control, preventing accidents, and maintaining trust from the user. The following redundancy strategies are considerable: redundant sensors, communication, energy storage, fail-safe strategy, and real-time diagnostic information.  All of these have a significant impact on the low voltage power net and its supporting energy storage design. 

To meet all these needs, a combination of different energy storage modules will become necessary and beneficial in the future. A smart way to combine power-oriented 12V ultra capacitors with 12V Li-Ion batteries would allow us to design a cost-efficient module to manage the expectations and help OEMs gain user trust in this system. As an add on, a smart AGM lead acid battery could help with regulatory compliance.  

An essential aspect of regulatory compliance is to ensure the safety and reliability of vehicles, one is system validation at -40°C, which represents functionality in harsh winter conditions.  Therefore, materials that can withstand low temperatures, ensure proper insulation and protection sensitive components should be selected, as well as designing the system to maintain functionality and accuracy in cold weather conditions. In harsh winter conditions, a lead acid battery shows significant advantage as this technology is considered cold temperature resistant and safe.  

It is important to design systems to satisfy customer needs while keeping the future in mind to reduce emissions and help combat climate change. At Clarios, we’ve established one of the world’s most successful examples of a circular economy. Sustainability is integral to our business, our customer relationships, and our essential role in the future of mobility.  As my colleague Christian Rosenkranz said at IAA “Our vision is a world where 100% of auto batteries are responsibly repurposed to power another generation of vehicles.” So, we are very focused on building our competencies for Li-ion recycling with strategic partnerships. We see electrification, digitization, and circularity as three key pieces of this industry transformation and we are working with our partners to help provide the best solutions the market needs.