A car manufacturer that does not now invest all its energy in electric drives is putting its future at risk. That’s according to Markus Lienkamp, Professor of Automotive Technology at the Technical University of Munich. Customers will decide how they want to drive in the future. That’s the view of Markus Enzinger, Head of Product Marketing Electrification/Drive at Audi. A discussion about the prospects, risks and opportunities for electric mobility.
Time to make the switch!
Professor Lienkamp, Mr. Enzinger, rigorous fleet consumption targets, the threat of driving restrictions for diesels – the combustion engine is being forced more and more onto the defensive. What does that mean for a manufacturer such as Audi?
Lienkamp: The automotive industry is being made to feel the heat from three directions: oil reserves, CO2 emissions and local driving restrictions. In Munich, Hamburg and Stuttgart, many customers are already taking a sceptical view of diesel models. And the downward trend that we are seeing in Germany is even more pronounced in China, where the combustion engine is being treated politically as a dead duck.
Enzinger: No question: the combustion engine currently has an image problem that encompasses a wide range of subjective aspects. But it is, and for many years to come will remain, an important form of drive for us and our customers, especially for long distances and for attaining the fleet consumption targets.
Lienkamp: But if politicians turn against it, that leaves you the manufacturer with no chance. All your specialist discussions about its pros and cons become irrelevant. From 2020, the EU will effectively be slapping a 500 euro penalty on manufacturers for every metric ton of CO2 above the fleet limit. Whereas an energy utility currently trades a metric ton of CO2 for eight euros. If you switch to electric cars, it will need to turn its attention to cutting emissions, which it is readily capable of. And that’s one task fewer for you.
Enzinger: Our vision is emissions-free mobility and we will gradually draw closer to that goal over the coming years. As well as purely battery-powered vehicles, our future drive concepts include combustion engines that are optimised by extensive electrification. By that I mean mild hybrids that support the combustion engine electrically, and can also cut fuel consumption by means of recuperation. An intelligent mix of drives is our best chance to serve the globally heterogeneous profile of customer and market requirements.
How much time do you think the combustion engine has left?
Lienkamp: It’s an attribute of every major change that you don’t spot it until relatively late on. Any manufacturer that now fails to move away from the combustion engine is digging its own grave. I’m convinced electric cars will account for the bulk of new registrations in Germany in 2027.
Enzinger: Even if the future is bright for the electric car, the technical potential of the combustion engine and its advantages in terms of range and infrastructure remain significant. Over the next few years it will assure mobility hand in hand with electric drive. Ultimately the customer will be the one to decide.
So what does the drivetrain of an all-electric car currently cost? And when will it be cheaper than a conventional drivetrain?
Lienkamp: If a midsize car had a battery with a capacity of 60 kWh for a range of 400 kilometres, we would be talking about EUR 6,000 to 8,000 just for the cells. That is roughly comparable to a conventional petrol drivetrain including turbocharger, up to the exhaust system and tank. Obviously we still need the electric motor and power electronics. But all electrical components are getting about seven percent cheaper by the year, while the degression for the mechanical system is only one percent. And the energy density of lithium-ion cells is steadily rising, again by seven percent a year.
Enzinger: Obviously the battery is still the biggest cost block, though we believe there is still quite some potential in economies of scale. But the cells alone won’t solve the issue, we need an entire battery system complete with management, and perfect integration into the energy management of the whole car and into the infrastructure.
And what about the electric car’s environmental footprint?
Lienkamp: An electric car running on green power always achieves far lower emissions than even the most economical combustion-engine model. Its efficiency is over 90 percent, whereas a combustion-engine model tends to achieve in the range of 30 to 40 percent. At our institute we analysed the raw materials for electric vehicles, and only a few of them rate as critical in terms of sustainability – cobalt, manganese, and of course graphite. Lithium is not a problem, especially as not very much of it is used for the batteries.
I’m convinced electric cars will account for the bulk of new registrations in Germany in 2027.
How far will Audi customers be able to drive on a fully charged battery?
Enzinger: For our first all-electric car, which is appearing on the market in 2018, we expect a range of about 500 kilometres, which also tallies with our customers’ expectations. They are simply used to high ranges from combustion engines, especially the TDI. Even if someone practically only uses their electric car for commuting, they still also expect to be able to drive off on holiday in it. That’s why the Volkswagen Group has teamed up with various partners to install a network of rapid-charging stations along European motorways – they are becoming increasingly important, but are unfortunately still too rare. It’s simply unacceptable for an electric car to have to stay plugged in for an hour or more while touring. Generally speaking a well-functioning public charging infrastructure provides vital leverage for the successful spread of electric vehicles. Especially in major cities, not every customer has the benefit of a private, permanently available charging bay.
Lienkamp: Two of my colleagues have been driving all-electric cars for some time and they’ve found that overall they spend less time charging than they used to at the filling station, because every morning they climb into a fully charged car in the garage. And if we incorporate electric cars into the regional power network to create lots of “smart grids”, charging at home will become even more logical. For hours on end, cars will then be able to take up excess capacities of renewables. And if the grid occasionally needs stabilising, they can feed power back, which will even bring the owner a payment.
Our vision is emissions-free mobility and we will gradually draw closer to that goal over the coming years.
How many kilometres can a traction battery go? And what happens after that?
Lienkamp: For the current generation, a service life of 400,000 kilometres can be assumed before the capacity will decline significantly. After that, such a large, powerful battery is ideal as a stationary storage device for household networks, especially as the charge cycles are less pronounced there than in the car.
Enzinger: In Europe we will be giving an eight-year guarantee on our large battery. And for their subsequent use, Audi has launched a specific project for sustained use called “Second Life”. The aim is for batteries that still have high storage capacities at the end of the vehicle’s life to continue in use for industrial applications, before they are then recycled when they reach the end of their capacity.
What would the ideal electric car be like, Professor Lienkamp?
Lienkamp: The ideal electric car is a city car that can cover as high a distance as possible. Many years ago, here at the Technical University of Munich we built a prototype taxi for Singapore. Another city car concept is the Visio.M, our prototype from 2014: a second car with two seats and a luggage compartment, a top speed of 120 km/h and a price tag of EUR 16,000. We believe electric cars needn’t be expensive. We recently developed a kind of small Unimog for Africa that can carry passengers and goods for 80 kilometres on one battery charge. In the right unit totals, it costs just EUR 10,000.
Enzinger: These are exciting projects, but a far cry from the classic cars built for our premium customers. When people buy a car, and very specifically an electric car, they are not just interested in practical utility; they also look at its image – the statement it makes. Here at Audi, electric mobility blends efficiency, sportiness and everyday usability, and that also includes a high range plus convenient, rapid charging.
The electric car will prevail.“
So what is Audi’s roadmap for electric drive?
Enzinger: At the moment we have two cars with plug-in hybrid drive in our range, the A3 Sportback e-tron and the Q7 TDI e-tron quattro. All engines of the new A8 will feature mild hybridisation with a 48-volt system. We expect to see higher demand for all-electric vehicles between 2020 and 2023. We aim to capitalise on that with our e-tron models. Our sporty SUV, which is all-electric, arrives in 2018. And after that, we will be bringing a new electric car onto the market at an average rate of one a year, while making use of the Group’s modules and platforms. In addition, from 2021 we will gradually electrify one model in every core car line. Our Board of Management has been considering this topic at great length and stated its very clear commitment to electric mobility.
Lienkamp: And a good thing, too! The technology is available. I don’t see anything that won’t yet work. As a car manufacturer, you now need to invest on a large scale. The transition will cost a lot of money and be a problem for entire factories and certain suppliers. Some will grow, others will have to pull out. What do you do with a supplier that makes piston rings?
An electric car without piston rings and an authentic engine sound – where is there room for Audi’s sporty brand character?
Enzinger: One core skill for us as a premium manufacturer will be to develop the electrical components in such a way that they can reproducibly deliver high performance for the customer. Sporty driving depends on more than just the engine sound – the thing that really impresses us about our electric cars is the sheer forcefulness of their acceleration.
Mr. Enzinger, Professor Lienkamp, can you draw a conclusion from this discussion?
Lienkamp: The electric car will prevail.
Enzinger: Electric mobility is a key topic for Audi. According to the strategic goal, by 2025 one-third of the cars we build are to have electric drives.