The Costs of Electric Vehicles: Opportunities in Component Development

The ITB Group, an international automotive consulting firm, has recently published a 2011 multi-client report to address a question that hangs in the thoughts of the automotive industry, energy companies, car buyers and fleet managers: How will hybrids and plug-in electric cars perform and are they worth the money?

Few technology issues are more urgent than the struggle to develop and manufacture vehicles with the greatest possible energy efficiency that match real world driving habits of the consumer. The automotive industry has been pursuing multiple powertrain options in an environment of risk-averse car buyers unfamiliar with the benefits of hybrid/electric powertrains, and who undervalue savings on future energy costs.

The advanced efficiency light-duty vehicle market has been dominated by the second and third generation Toyota Prius. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have been on the market for over one year, presenting two different performance propositions. German OEMs are taking battery electric vehicles very seriously, and coming full circle, Toyota will imminently launch its 2012 Prius PHEV, which will again ask the question of which OEM is offering a clear winner for customers.

The ITB Group concludes that in the time period 2012 through 2020, there will be a diverse range of new vehicle technologies. It will take some time to develop these technologies further and determine clear winning approaches. Also, in the cost structure, electrical components will become a competitive cornerstone for future vehicles. The ITB Group makes several predictions on the direction of component developments in conventional, hybrid, and battery powertrains, as follows:

CONVENTIONAL GASOLINE AND DIESEL POWERTRAINS will benefit from technology enhancements, such as start/stop systems, and are expected to remain stable from a quality and reliability standpoint. Reducing pumping losses in engine valvetrains and moves to CVT and AMT transmissions are expected to yield significant efficiency improvements, and so will other technologies, such as lubricants, HVAC advancements, mass optimization, and aerodynamic drag reduction. High payback technologies will be commercialized first. A package of technology improvements costing $900 can yield a five-year fuel savings of $2000, and pay itself back in less than three years.

HYBRID VEHICLE POWERTRAINS will benefit from some of the same technologies as conventional powertrains, but technologies such as thermal management improvements will drive hybrid vehicle development. Electric water pumps can be packaged into more precise and efficient thermal control systems, reducing start-up effects and winter fuel consumption by about ten percent. OEM implementations of advanced thermal management include Hyundai’s automatic transmission warmer, or Fiat’s integrated engine cooling and HVAC module.

BATTERY ELECTRIC VEHICLE DEVELOPMENT offers many opportunities for suppliers, and places a premium on motor actuators, pumps, integrated circuits, and ECU’s. The ITB Group predicts that electric powertrain peak efficiency will rise from 85% today to over 90% in 2020. Induction motors are promising due to their simplicity and low costs, but energy density and efficiency are key areas for induction motor improvement. The biggest quality risks in battery electric vehicles are the battery, DC/DC converter, charging system, and motor controller. Big improvements in EV performance will significantly reduce range anxiety.

PLUG-IN HYBRIDS are demanding integrations of modules such as inverter and charger, in order to reduce size, weight and cost. PHEVs utilizes some technologies that have been employed in other hybrid vehicles, but will be subject to greater stress in a PHEV application, and thus are relatively unproven. It is not clear whether larger PHEV-40 or smaller PHEV-10 vehicles will better match customer needs and win in the market.

This 428-page report contains a meta-analysis of performance metrics put forth by OEM, government, and university research bodies, and also contains primary research and data analysis with the ITB Group’s partner, Pyxidus LLC.

OEM product planners, marketers and futurists who need a third-party view of future powertrain prospects; energy companies considering smart-grid integration of plug-in vehicles; and fleet managers who are trying to make near-term purchasing choices will be well-served by this analysis from The ITB Group.

The ITB Group, Ltd. is an international automotive consulting firm headquartered in Novi, Michigan, USA, that provides technical and business advice to OEMs, component and material suppliers in North America, Europe, and Asia. The company is a leading expert in fuel systems and alternative energy storage, and has considerable knowledge in materials, design and the business structure for the automotive market.