The BBC recently started a fierce debate over the state of sales for personal vehicles. The industry is in such a state of flux, with a rate of change from technology innovation that’s never been seen before. However, accelerating through all this does not necessarily mean that we will experience a world with zero car ownership in the future. At NXP we see that the automotive industry is facing an interesting challenge with vehicle electrification, as multiple forces move the development along quickly. Rising to the top of these are the increasing regulatory restrictions on emissions and a shift in consumer preferences.
On one side, there’s a proliferation of legislation from countries around the world: the general dictate is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the average fleet over time. This can only be achieved by adding electric components to the powertrain.
Added to that, there is a clear lifestyle factor that weighs-in on the argument as more carmakers are offering desirable electric vehicles that trade on the value of their image. This very image can entice customers to switch from traditional internal combustion engines to alternative combustion, low emission or zero emissions powered vehicles.
With this development comes challenges. Design cycles for electric or hybrid vehicles differ from those of internal combustion engines. The combustion engine is a predominantly mechanical machine, with electronic components helping to make it more efficient. In contrast, an electric motor is straightforward – much like the motor on simple household appliances, with a battery to provide power. A hybrid powertrain is more complex as it is situated between the two, combining the complexities of a mechanical motor with an electric motor.
This is a different challenge for automotive designers and one which requires a new breed of engineers capable of designing these vehicles. This leads to the growth potential of the various electric and electronic system components that make up a vehicle.
Everything linked to the electric powertrain has enormous growth rates, which is why understanding the market is so important. Since electric vehicles are more straightforward to build, entry barriers to the market are lower. This area is ripe for start-ups around the world, but with a focus uniquely on the electric vehicle. In contrast, traditional carmakers are looking to bridge the gap between the past and the future with hybrid vehicles.
One key aspect of this developing market is understanding how to efficiently control the power in electrified systems. This objective brings together long-standing principles of functional safety, zero defects automotive quality, high-volume production and security. New generations of microcontrollers with very high compute power will be coupled with dedicated peripherals to control, for example, the Lithium-Ion battery packs.
Another rather new aspect is connectivity. While previously powertrains were stand-alone systems not connected to the outside world, we see this is changing now with the advent of automated cars with electrical drive trains. In an automated car, carmakers want to include external data to optimize the range of batteries. They look at the optimum route towards the planned destination, they collect and consider sensor data from the surroundings of the car – all valuable inputs to take the range anxiety of drivers away by improving the reliability of the battery range.
The one certainty with the electric vehicle market is it will continue to change and introduce new challenges. Understanding how these changes will shape the market in the years to come is critical. Automakers need to be flexible to quickly respond to market dynamics with the right electrification strategies and take advantage of the potential growth.