As the world struggles with the problems of environmental pollution and traffic congestion, electric cars are being looked upon as the long-term solution to such problems. Electric vehicles, however, still pose many challenges such as high purchase cost, range anxiety, and inadequate infrastructure. The extent of these problems compounds when looked at from the perspective of emerging countries such as India. In order to get an understanding how exactly will the shift to electric mobility be driven, we caught up with Dr Markus Heyn, Member of the Board of Management, Robert Bosch GmbH, on the sidelines of Bosch Mobility Experience 2017 in Boxberg, Germany. He gave us an insight into how small electric vehicles can be the drivers of electric mobility, especially in urban areas, which continue to choke under the pressure of rapidly increasing population.
Express Drives: You made statements about electrification, You mentioned China which has surged to almost 200 million EVs on the road. What drove this growth?
Heyn: It has partly to do with the Government, but the main focus is the people who are obviously enjoying the experience of owning and driving electric vehicles. This is more than just a hype on that scale and it's not just China, Indian OEMs also have their best foot forward looking at newer technologies and are planning new models that lead toward a future in electric mobility.
ED: Can you elaborate on the Indian OEM in terms of investment?
Heyn: They are preparing models with an electric future in mind. We are partners in this process and not only with electric powertrains in mind, but also two-wheeler OEMs for better engine systems to meet BS-Stage 6. So we not only help with electrification but we are still very much involved with internal combustion.
ED: You spoke about smaller electric vehicles earlier, specifically under one tonne. With India in mind, what sets us apart as far as EV technology goes and what will change in your approach over the next 5-10 years?
Heyn: In my view, the technology that we present here (Bosch Mobility Experience 2017) can be used in India, without any limits. Compared to a high voltage system it's much cheaper and much lighter. Although you can't expect 100Kw power levels from a 40kw powertrain. However, for most vehicles, this will work very easily. The vehicle that we showcased today has 25 kW, and that seems more than enough for the urban environments. More importantly, it's very inexpensive, which means that we can start looking at a mass market product. They are even significantly cheaper to own and maintain than 100 kW motors whose parts might still not be accessible. There are a lot of vehicles in the Indian automotive market right now that have the scope to be electrified, primarily those that fall below the 1-tonne mark. This makes India a great incubator for an electric future.
ED: You mentioned affordability, which is interesting. We have had a few light EVs but they never took off mainly because of their high pricing. What is the kind of changes that you foresee?
Heyn: I think the good news is that the 48v systems will have a lot of area of applications which will allow them to grow in volumes. This will obviously bring down the costs. We have lots of agriculture equipment OEMs saying that if we can implement agricultural systems with 48v, they will take them right away. Larger passengers cars are also looking to use the 48v system in the form of a mild hybridization to aid combustion engines. If I take these predictions into account, then we have a cost-efficient model in place.
Battery management system will improve because we believe from an electronic standpoint, we have better means to control the battery. We will also be able to improve energy density which will ultimately bring down production costs and add significantly to the range. However, we believe that with smaller EVs batteries the systems will be relatively inexpensive.
ED: Do you see governments setting up infrastructure in time? Heyn: Luckily governments are beginning to understand that it can't be done by just supporting OEMs, they realise that they have to plan an infrastructure and set it in place to achieve this. Again a number of governments have already begun expediting this process. We can expect to see more governments join this paradigm shift as time moves forward.
ED: Every OEM has its own different standards for these things so will there be standardised systems in place?
Heyn: We believe that the world is moving towards a more open future. Proprietary technologies will not be as successful as open source ones.It is the direction of the future. Whether it is interfaces(technical) or means of recharging we will always look first at open solutions.
ED: Let's talk 2-wheelers, considering that they contribute in a large way to the emissions in India. As the need for two-wheeler based logistics grows, more will be the number of such vehicles as well. What is your view on how to convert such vehicles to electric propulsion?
Heyn: That's a great question! the phenomenon of which you speak is not just localised to India or the sub-continent. We have those same problems here in Europe, although the vehicles may be different the net result is usually the same. The sheer amount of goods transport goes up, relative to people transport and will continue to do so. It makes sense to consider means which will boil into software services and connected vehicles might be a sort of solution. Here one could allow a certain amount of space in an already travelling vehicle for goods transport on request. But that transparency is not there today. A connected world will help this. Even more in the future autonomous vehicles.
ED: For shared mobility services who'll take the initiative as there are multiple platforms and goods to be delivered?
Heyn: We try to provide mobility services ourselves. Since we believe in an open world, we want to at least be able to provide shared mobility services to a certain extent. Which is why we started the shared e-scooter service. We are likely to see a number of digital twins, based on data sharing and our vision of a more open world. The platform for this will be the automotive IoT# (Internet of thing).
ED: When do expect to see this transparency you spoke about?
Heyn: It depends on the people, and what they want to share and how much they want to share. If they are amiable I see this happening in the very near future. Otherwise, it will take more time, but people need to understand that this is what needs to be done for a brighter future.