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Automotive Megatrends USA 2015 – review

Organised and hosted by Automotive World, the 2015 edition of Automotive Megatrends USA was attended by 400 delegates from across the automotive industry

Organised and hosted by Automotive World, the 2015 edition of Automotive Megatrends USA was attended by 400 delegates from across the automotive industry.

Megatrends USA stageAutomotive World’s Megatrends events tackle the issues that will shape the automotive industry over the next ten years and beyond, and attendees at the March 2015 conference held in Dearborn, Michigan, heard insightful and provocative presentations across three streams from a strong line-up of OEMs, suppliers, authorities, thought leaders and other key industry stakeholders.

The 2015 event’s three streams – Powertrain Innovation, Connected Car and Vehicle Lightweighting – reflected arguably the hottest topics influencing the automotive industry of tomorrow; it’s clear that although they can be looked at individually, there’s also significant overlap, with each working better when it operates in tandem with the others.

Lighter vehicles accommodate – even promote – alternative powertrain technology; connected car technology, when fully operational, can improve driving efficiency in a variety of ways, and with cars aware of where other cars are on the road, improve safety and lead to a reduction in the heavy passive safety technology currently required.

Disruptive technology gathers pace

Megatrends USA pop upNothing could be more appropriate to a conference about megatrends than a discussion about disruptive technology, and interestingly, the two keynote speakers at Automotive Megatrends USA presented broadly similar independent views on this issue. Both see the consumer as the driving force at the heart of the automotive industry of the future. Embrace mobility and exploit the ecosystem, said IBM’s Kal Gyimesi, who discussed IBM’s recent “Automotive 2025: Industry without borders” – a study that looks at how these disruptive forces will shape the automotive industry of a decade from now. Rohit Kedia of Infosys urged the automotive industry to deliver performance and ensure continuous product development. ‘Old’ technologies are now powerful enough to be disruptive, he said, and when they combine forces they pose a genuine threat. It’s happened in other industries, pointed out Kedia – citing various examples that ranged from Amazon and Netflix to Kodak – and the time is ripe for it to happen to the automotive industry. Now is the time for the traditional automotive industry to evolve and adapt, or step aside.

Megatrends in review: Powertrain Innovation

OEMs, suppliers and other stakeholders with a vested interest in the automotive industry are working hard to meet the target in the US of 54.5mpg by 2025, investigating new material applications, new powertrain technology and a host of ways of improving efficiency and reducing emissions.

Kevin Green, Chief – CAFE Program Office, NHTSA
Kevin Green, Chief – CAFE Program Office

Fuel economy regulations beyond 2020 were a key topic of discussion in the Powertrain Innovation track. However, these targets are subject to change, cautioned Kevin Green, who heads up the CAFE programme at the US Department of Transportation. “We have to make sure that the 2022-25 standards are ‘augural’, not final,” he stated.

The dramatic fall in oil prices – WTI was at US$44 on the day of the conference – and the associated low price of fuel has seen an upsurge in light truck sales; the higher-than-expected proportion of trucks in the fleet mix is one of the factors that regulators will need to accommodate in the 2017 mid-term review of the 54.5mpg fuel economy target for 2025. The number 54.5 is one that should not be taken too literally, suggested Green, who anticipates movement in that number long before 2025.

Megatrends USA - powertrain innovationDirectly corresponding to the fuel economy standards, one of the dominant themes of the Powertrain Innovation track swayed in the direction of alternative powertrain architectures. Specifically, the race between electric vehicles (EV) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) was examined, as several industry experts suggested that both technologies will witness imminent uptake.

Ford’s Global Director, Vehicle Electrification & Infrastructure, Mike Tinskey, discussed the future of EV and enabling technology. The OEM’s current focus lies in developing its product technology in order to better the environment and improve the carbon footprint of its customers. “Everything we are focusing on is around reducing CO2, and meeting the target of 450ppm,” he said.

Douglas Skorupski, Manager of Powertrain Strategy, Volkswagen of America
Douglas Skorupski, Manager of Powertrain Strategy, Volkswagen of America

A similar line was taken by Douglas Skorupski, Manager of Powertrain at Volkswagen of America, who explained the company’s holistic approach to e-mobility, and its drive towards a CO2 neutral future. As well as discussing the OEM’s plans to electrify 45 different models that traditionally use ICEs, Skorupski described VW’s ‘Think Blue’ initiative. Through this project, the OEM is looking at decreasing the energy used and waste generated at its factories by 25%.

Alternative powertrain technology development makes the headlines, but there is still considerable efficiency to be drawn out of the internal combustion engine (ICE). As well as the need to ‘eek’ more out, it’s important to leak less out, suggested Ricardo’s Karina Morley. With energy losses of around 40-50% from ICEs, there’s still a long way to go before the combustion engine’s true potential is fully realised.

Several industry experts presented information on a variety of technologies that can improve ICE efficiency, both in terms of mainstream engine architectures and in alternative engine architectures, such as the two-stroke opposed-piston engine. As John Koszewnik, Chief Technology Officer at Achates Power suggested, the two-stroke opposed-piston engine is a “game-changing technology that is set to become an automotive megatrend.”

Megatrends USA connected carMegatrends in review: Connected Car

In the Connected Car track, one theme in particular discussed by many of the speakers was how the industry can direct the car towards a safer, more secure future.

Dan Mender, Vice President Business Development at Green Hills Software, spoke specifically about the serious challenge faced by the automotive industry of the need for cyber security. The automotive industry, he said, could “learn a trick or two” from the way other industries handle cyber security, such as consumer electronics.

Mender noted that the current status of software security is “ugly,” with 19 new security vulnerabilities per day reported in 2014 by the National Vulnerability Database. “How can we think about and make connected cars more secure?” asked Mender. “We can learn from other industries and help OEMs design systems to fight against the most malicious outsiders.”

Another key connected car megatrend highlighted at the conference was the personalisation of the car to address consumer needs, which many speakers raised as a leading issue for its safety and acceptance in society.

Jennifer Wahnschaff, VP Instrumentation and Driver HMI, Continental
Jennifer Wahnschaff, VP Instrumentation and Driver HMI, Continental

Jennifer Wahnschaff, Vice President, Instrumentation and Driver HMI, Continental, expressed the view that it is vital for the connected car in the future to offer the consumer a holistic HMI which is personalised to their driving needs. “We believe that the industry needs to personalise the driving experience based on what the consumer expects from their connected car,” she stated.

According to Paul Asel, Managing Director, Nokia Growth Partners, “The average person spends around 50 minutes in a car alone per day, yet cars and drivers are still very much reliant on broadcast media. Entertainment in the connected car of the future will be personalised, and safety measures will be more contextualised and personalised based on driving habits.”

As an illustration of how the big automotive industry megatrends overlap and complement each other, various speakers emphasised the potential benefits of fusing connectivity and efficiency to make the connected car of the future.

Frank Weith, General Manager Connected Services at Volkswagen Group of America, discussed the possibility of utilising connectivity to reduce the carbon footprint of the car. “Sustainable action is a necessity,” he explained. “Connected aspects of the car such as predictive navigation intelligence can make the future car more intuitive, reactive and efficient.”

Megatrends USA - vehicle lightweightingMegatrends in review: Vehicle Lightweighting

OEMs need to reduce mass to meet CAFE regulations in 2025, and the industry is seeking to meet this target through a combination of new materials technologies and improvements of traditional materials. Delegates in the Vehicle Lightweighting track heard presentations from speakers variously advocating carbon fibre and composites, aluminium, steel and plastic.

According to Doug Richman, Vice President of Engineering at Kaiser Aluminum, utilising aluminium to reduce mass is essential to meet CAFE regulations in 2025.

Current aluminium applications are allowing OEMs to realise significant weight savings; 1lb of aluminium in a passenger car replaces 1.5lb-2lb (680-907g) of steel, and for body-in-white (BIW), savings of 350-450lb can be made. “However we get there,” commented Richman, “vehicles are going to be safer, and the fleet better because we will have less mass running around, less kinetic energy involved in traffic collisions, better emissions, less corrosion, and improved braking performance.”

Ana Wagner, Global Strategic Marketing Manager, Body Structures, Dow Automotive, also commented on mass reduction: “The the body is a third of the vehicle’s mass. Clearly lightweighting in this area is crucial.”

Although carbon-fibre is promising, cost is still a major barrier to adoption. Raw material and manufacturing costs need to be reduced to level the playing field for automotive companies to increase penetration, and help OEMs realise greater weight savings, greater efficiency and reduced emissions.

Frank Macher, Chairman & CEO, Continental Structural Plastics
Frank Macher, Chairman & CEO, Continental Structural Plastics

Frank Macher, Chief Executive of Continental Structural Plastics, a US-based supplier of composite materials, sees carbon-fibre as a potential solution to the challenge presented by CAFE regulations, but admitted in his presentation that it will be “a gimmick” unless costs of using the material can be reduced. The current cost of carbon-fibre applications within the automotive industry, he said, are roughly US$30/lb. This is “truly unacceptable”. A mix of carbon-fibre with composite materials would “provide significant weight reductions and minimise to some extent the cost impact,” he suggests.

Echoing this, Ravi Kumar, Senior Principal and Head of Advanced Engineering Group at Infosys, commented that carbon composites are becoming more competitive and cost-effective: “The design of composite components and new manufacturing tools are expected to reduce engineering cycle time, cut costs to both suppliers and OEMs, and improve quality.”

Megatrends USA badgesThe global composite materials market was worth roughly US$28bn in 2014, and Kumar expects this to continue growing by 15-20% each year in future. Between 2014 and 2030, Kumar said he expects raw material, manufacturing and total costs of carbon composites to fall significantly.

Collaboration at a Tier level will help the industry come together and produce more viable lightweighting solutions. Ramzi Hermiz, Chief Executive of Shiloh Industries, said that in order to reach CAFE targets, suppliers need to “work with the OEMs and engage with collaborators. The industry is going to have to look at things differently.”

Dow Automotive’s Wagner concurred: “We need to work together across the board to drive these solutions. There needs to be two or three suppliers working together. It’s certainly not something we can do alone.”

Dan Wohletz, Vice President, Automotive North America, Henkel
Dan Wohletz, Vice President, Automotive North America, Henkel

New materials require new joining techniques. Dan Wohletz, Vice President, Automotive North America, Henkel, presented the case for adhesives as a joining solution. Adhesives create a barrier between two substrates, he said, “which helps to isolate the products so that you don’t get corrosion.”

There is also increased flexibility in the design of a component or vehicle, he added: “You can’t just use riveting or welding any more. You can use adhesives no matter what you need to do, and no matter how the OEM wants it to look, adhesives are there to help fill that gap.”

Michael Nash, Rachel Boagey, Freddie Holmes and Martin Kahl

The next Automotive Megatrends conference will be held in India in December 2015. Follow this link for details:

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