Game Changer or Disruption!

EV is going to be new beast compared to todays cars!

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I have been writing about Electric Vehicles; for updates I keep on talking to people in the industry, read on the net and am lucky enough to have someone in Tesla to update my understanding of EV’s. I am no technical expert in this field but I can feel that something big is definitely happening. Hope I am able to see some of these major changes in my lifetime. I was lucky to be part of two such events, Internet and Cell phone. These two disruptions have  changed the way our world has been operating! When Jaya was in the US for her MS, 1980-8;  talking to each other on phone, needed a lot of coordination. We did not have phone at home. So, she would write to me the timing when she would call, that too at someone else’s place. If we were lucky she could get through after ½ hour delay! By next year, I am told that cell phones can be used during the flights too!  That is game changer!

In IC engine cars, the Engine has been the heart for more than 100 years, and car performances have been defined by the quality of the engine! Then the quality of the overall car is said to be better when the exhaust system and engine jointly released least amount of pollutants. Of course, now exhaust parameters are mandatory world over. By 2023 these parameters will be so tough that company like Volvo has already declared that they have decided not to develop any new diesel engines post 2023, as development of the same will not be cost effective! Plus, cities and countries are slowly banning diesel cars to be driven within their boundaries.

The drive train today, is placed physically in between tyres, from front bumper to rear exhaust system! This whole drive train is being replaced in EV’s, (as shown in pictures above) so what will decide the quality of EV’s? What is the Engine for EV’s? The Motors, the electronic controllers, battery pack, inverter and  gear. So, the car which travels more distance per charge, which accelerates faster will be a better car, all are zero emission cars anyway! No, it is not that simple! This is just the beginning of the car revolution! The batteries will have better charge storage per unit area, they may cost lesser and lesser over a period of time but this becomes  commercial aspect. To me battery packs are petrol tanks! Better battery only increases the capacity of the “new petrol tank” and distance traveled per charge!

Major parts in the new drive train for cars are going to be the software and the sensors that are going to be there in a car, besides the battery pack, motors and ECU’s. Around 2010, some vehicles had software with about 10 million lines of codes! In 2016 it is supposed to have increased by 15 times to about 150 million lines of code! The software is related to car autonomy, safety and infotainment related codes. But this is going to change even more drastically over period. The whole system might become  a computer in the car! The car recalls will not be because of faulty clutch or a gear box it will be because of software glitches and sensors!

The cost of software currently in large cars can be about 10% of the Bill of Materials but is likely go up in next 10/12 years to 30%! So, this is going to be the first game changer. What happens to current vendors of engine parts? As the population of EV’s starts increasing, the population of new IC engine cars is going to come down! Instead of one set of vendors, who make drive train parts, new set of vendors from IT industry and electronic industry will take over! So, need for physical RM will start getting replaced by “products” which cannot be seen by naked eye! Players who are currently tier 2 or tier 3 vendors may start becoming tier 1 vendors. At the same time car manufacturers may stand on the toes of Operating system vendors so that they can control the distinct facilities they can offer. This cannibalization is already being observed in case of battery manufacture! Vehicle manufacturers themselves are producing battery packs now. In IC engine cars, batteries have a small functional role whereas in EV’s it is going to be the new “Petrol”! OPEC, I am sure is already having sleepless nights or nightmares!

It looks like software will follow the path of infotainment innovations, autonomous driving capabilities, intelligent safety devices which will be able to work even if some part of software fails! The software will integrate with hardware in the form of sensors! This my friends, is going to be future drive train! The whole system over a period will be of increasing complexity which will need newer and newer algorithms and will generate such a huge data that all the data generated from these cars will have to be stored to cloud! One important aspect of new drive train is temperatures; these are almost at room temperature compared to IC engine cars where exhaust temperatures can go upto 600 deg c! This normal temperature in “New Engine” will allow usage of lot of electronics, sensors, software and ECU’s.

What do we foresee? Basic car with body, trim, seats etc which will keep on changing as is happening now. But it is the “New Engine” in the form of sensors, software, ECU’s and cloud computing that will change the car and make it a different beast than what we see today!

First and foremost will be the infotainment area which will have full connectivity with our single “communicator” which is currently our cell phone! It will have all these functions plus, music, internet hookup, reverse drive screen, automatic parking capabilities. This will use cameras in place of mirrors and it will also be the GPS display screen! What new functionalities will be added is anybody’s guess! Next consolidation will be ECU’s. Currently, there are 8 to 10 of them per car. These will be consolidated over a period, to one or two ECU’s which will handle all functionalities . The “real engine” will be controlled through these ECU’s along with other systems like wipers, window regulators, AC’s and so on. Next important aspect is, each vehicle will generate so much data that storing the same can be an issue. So, all this data will be transferred to cloud. This data can be used for analysis, diagnostics, on improving performance of the vehicle. This will be real life data and give the car makers real life continuous flow of information; product improvement cycles will be much shorter! In most cases in future, product errors will be related more to sensors and software. Software errors can be updated easily by releasing patches to all concerned cars as these cars will always be connected!

Another game changer will be what is going to happen to car service industry! Cars will go to workshops only for sheet metal work! Or small odd jobs! This will also affect vehicle manufacturer’s spare part sales; we know that drive train component manufacturers, will go down over a period! These components will exist only for old cars as no new cars will not need their products!

Another new area that will come up is third party software products! We really don’t know what these products are going to be! Most of the products will be available for passengers, as the driver naturally cannot use them while driving. Oh, I forgot we will have driverless cars at some stage, then all are going to be passengers. So, possibilities are simply unlimited!

I could write on and on and on! Let us wait and watch; there have been car racing games for computers. But now you will be having computers which drive real life cars on real roads! That too on their own! As a game changer or major disruptor of business, it’s a great thing for humanity. But for those who are in business of making current drive train components, it’s going to be a nightmare. As my friend had rightly said during a discussion, “I am ok with this change because it is for my next generation to handle this and not me because real inflexion point could be 2030, by that time I will retire!”

 

Author: panvalkarpramod

I am an engineer by training and run my own business. I like to blog but do not yet get enough time.

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