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Planning beyond the pandemic: mapping the path to 2050

The automotive sector’s commitment to net zero is stronger than ever. A series of new roadmaps predict the technologies that will shape the future, writes Jon Regnart

In the midst of a crisis like COVID, it’s easy to understate the power of collaboration. The rapid roll-out of numerous vaccines across the world is testament to what government, industry and academia can achieve together. Within the automotive sector, collaboration has defined the response to crises too. After the 2009 global financial crash, the Obama administration brought the US automotive industry together around the decarbonisation agenda, while the UK government rallied industry around the first ‘propulsion roadmap’, developed by the Automotive Council.

Automotive World Magazine – May 2021

Today, as the industry plans a future beyond COVID, it’s important to once again move forward in a spirit of collective endeavour. To help with that, the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) has just launched its next generation of roadmaps, drawn from conversations with over 140 organisations worldwide. What can these tell us about the future? Here are a few of the key trends APC picked up on in these discussions.

The COVID legacy

All roadmaps are products of their time, and this series inevitably reflects the challenges of the pandemic. For starters, urban consumers will be reticent to use shared mobility solutions and car clubs as people prioritise their own personal space. There is a pull towards personal car ownership again and an increased appetite for micromobility solutions like e-bikes.

Public transport faces similar challenges. Bus operators, for example, talk of exploring alternatives to fixed timetables in favour of more flexible and on-demand services. This so-called ‘uber-isation’ of mass transit would have profound implications for product design and development in the future.

There are also wider implications for supply chain management, with the increased preference for localisation—as seen in efforts to situate battery supply chains in Europe and America—to minimise short- to medium-term risks around logistics.

All roadmaps are products of their time, and this series inevitably reflects the challenges of the pandemic

Yet discussions showed a sense of perspective, an understanding that the events of the last 12 months represent a short-term fluctuation that should not distract from more fundamental challenges involved in transport decarbonisation.

Urban mobility as a shaping force

A shift among the major players from simply manufacturing and selling vehicles to providing a full spectrum of mobility and energy solutions is currently underway. Ford, for example, now describes itself as a mobility company, while Volkswagen owns and operates a renewable energy company, Elli, to complement the introduction of a range of electric vehicles (EVs), starting with the launch of the ID.3.

These new roadmaps put the issue of mobility at the heart of the planning process. For example, urban mobility, with its low daily mileage and local commuting trips, is opening up mass market routes for smaller, lower power, efficient transport solutions, such as Citroen’s urban two-seater vehicle, the AMI, launched last year.

New financing approaches are also emerging: the AMI can be bought for £6,000 (US$8,400)or rented per minute via Free2Move, as consumers seek more flexible ways of paying for their private transport. APC believes these trends are likely to grow as manufacturers strive to keep pace with changing consumer demand in a changing market.

Meeting the green performance challenge

For high power and performance vehicles, two further shifts in consumer appetite will shape mobility needs and hence the technologies required. The first is the growing preference for larger SUVs, which results in heavier and therefore more power-hungry vehicles; the second is the popularity of luxury and sports vehicles where additional power is used to augment performance.

The roadmap forecasts that high-performance vehicles will be the most likely segment to fully electrify first.  Jaguar’s commitment to being a luxury EV brand by 2025 is testament to this trend. But with accelerated product timelines, comes an appetite for high performance OEMs to try advanced EV technologies. For example, the Porsche Taycan is the first-ever 800-volt vehicle: a commercial breakthrough paving the way for a new generation of high-powered cars that are capable of being charged in minutes rather than hours.

Jaguar I-Pace lithium-ion battery pack
The Jaguar brand will be all-electric by 2025

We will also see more technology borrowed from Formula E cars used to improve power and efficiency. Innovations in enhanced battery health management techniques, immersion cooling and new semiconductor materials are now slowly being introduced onto road vehicles.

And for large SUVs, fuel cells may help to deliver the high torque necessary for towing and achieving longer-range travel. Jaguar Land Rover is developing fuel cell powertrains with off-road and towing capability via their APC-funded project ZEUS, and BMW has committed to a limited number of fuel cell X5s scheduled for introduction in 2022.

An eclectic energy portfolio for heavy-duty transport

The task of decarbonising heavy goods and off-highway vehicles, meanwhile, will require an even more diverse mix of propulsion solutions.  Interest in fuel cells has already begun to stimulate action. Last year, for example, Daimler Truck, Iveco, OMV, Shell and the Volvo Group created the H2Accelerate (H2A) industry alliance to help launch heavy-duty fuel cell trucks across key European freight corridors, while Hyundai plans to roll out a total of 1,600 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks by 2025.

Others have shown that full battery electrification is technically feasible for heavy-duty transport, despite the challenges of energy density, package space and cost. Disruptors like Tesla and more recently ARRIVAL and Volta Trucks are already designing bespoke EV platforms to address a demand in the market.

Many industry players still see an important role for new internal combustion engines (ICE) based on net-zero sustainable fuels. E-fuels like hydrogen have been proven to work in combustion engines, as demonstrated on the BMW Hydrogen 7 limited production vehicle.

Companies like Dolphin, Achates Power and Volvo, are all developing new engine technologies that aim to hit 55% peak brake thermal efficiency using new combustion cycles and waste heat recovery systems—a potential gamechanger in terms of delivering heavy-duty vehicles that pass the power test in a smarter, greener and cheaper way.

The ambition is to meet those twin challenges of mobility and clean energy to deliver a generational shift in green technologies

A new ecosystem of technology providers

All of the discussions point to a paradigm shift across industry. Traditional, combustion engines are versatile and could be applied to a broad range of sectors, from motorbikes to 44-tonne trucks. However, the move away from fossil fuels means the industry can no longer rely on existing engines across multiple vehicle segments. Manufacturers have to make hard choices about the propulsion technologies they adopt; balancing energy storage capability, peak power as well as how the consumer will use the vehicle. These roadmaps help to guide their way forward.

What will emerge is a much more diverse and highly specialised ecosystem of technologies to power the green revolution. This will demand ingenuity, determination and collaboration at a massive scale—and, with it, significant commercial opportunities that will need to carefully evolve over the coming decades.

Twelve years on from the first Automotive Council roadmap, the vision for a net-zero automotive sector has never been clearer. The ambition is to meet those twin challenges of mobility and clean energy to deliver a generational shift in green technologies. And if that can be achieved then this decade—blighted as it has been by the pandemic—may yet be remembered with admiration rather than fear.

Jon Regnart is Automotive Trend Strategist at the Advanced Propulsion Centre. Download the new product and technology roadmaps at:

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