The Electrification Megatrends Transforming the Automotive Industry
December 21, 2021
The automotive industry is experiencing a hive of activity. You can tell when the automotive industry is prospering when the house prices in Detroit start going through the roof. In this blog, Jim Fissinger, Vice President, TDK, gives his perspective on the electrification megatrends that are transforming the industry.
There has been an electrification boom in the last six months, with major OEM announcements to bring battery technology in-house almost weekly. For example, Stellantis, who owns the Chrysler, Dodge, Citroën, and Alfa Romeo brands, to name but a few, recently announced significant global battery investments.
This news closely follows the announcements by Ford and GM to invest in plants to build battery packs. Most of them aim for electrification by 2030, but GM targets no ICE (internal combustion engines) by 2035. These are just a few examples of a substantial formal commitment by the OEMs to e-mobility. This acceptance goes hand in hand with consumer and public acceptance of the environmental impact of ICE in society. Importantly, today’s EVs (electric vehicles) deliver on range, which is also helping to drive this upward boom.
When you think about an electric motor replacing ICE, there’s a lot of consternation at the OEM level as they've have spent millions developing ICE technologies and are now shifting their focus on the electric powertrain. With the advent of electrification, the activity between Tier 1s and OEMs is starting to blend more. The OEMs are becoming much more deeply involved.
Architectures from the OEMs are very much in flux, but the overall aim is for commonized platforms. For semiconductor manufacturers, this trend fits nicely into that e-mobility segment. Technologies include the power electronics in the powertrain, motor technology, battery management technology with DC/DC converters and sensors, and high voltage and onboard charging systems.
At the same time, there is the transition from silicon to wide bandgap semiconductor materials, particularly the uptake in Silicon Carbide (SiC), which shines for inverter technologies. Although SiC is expensive today, these costs are going down gradually, and with the expectation for significant ramps in volumes, the cost will drop further.
Then there are the electronic component shortages to consider. The semiconductor supply chain is complex. It’s not just one part number that’s causing a problem – it’s all over the place. For the automotive OEMs, they are working hard to produce every vehicle they can. And nobody is willing to give a date for when this situation is likely to end.
On top of this, in the electrified powertrain space of the recent past, most companies would engage one supplier. Now, for future model years, several suppliers are used - because of the anticipated volumes, OEMs have to mitigate risk in the supply chain, making for a cost-competitive landscape.
There’s a whole host of advanced technologies for the automotive industry, including DC fast charging and sophisticated battery management allowing for longer ranges. There’s also film capacitors for onboard charging and DC link requirements for high voltage inverters. Aluminium electrolytic capacitor technologies fit well in many of these applications. There’s also improved sensing and sensor fusion for the powertrain, including TMR sensors for ultra-high-precision monitoring of EV batteries. In these high voltage applications, where there are high safety requirements, PTC current limiters are also necessary components.
Another thing to consider is the growing shortage of engineering power. Not just labor in general, most industries are struggling with that, but with electrification, everything is new, and it’s changing. For instance, battery technology is changing, and the way high-voltage systems are architectured is changing. Some of these technologies and solutions are relatively new; engineers with specific knowledge in these areas are head-hunted, and, on occasion, external engineering resources are brought in. Also, as the traditional Tier 1s shift their business models to these new technologies, they have to retrain their engineers or extend their teams. In saying that, if there is a change, there’s an opportunity for the technology suppliers.
As engineering teams strive for more compact mechanical size, weight reduction and higher efficiency designs, passive components, semiconductor, and SiC technologies are all helping fulfil these demands. For high-voltage power, such as AC traction inverters and even for high current or low current power rails for an ADAS compute module, a wide variety of passive components can help fulfil these demands for efficient designs.
Although the pandemic has thrown us all in many ways, engineers are open to engage directly again with high quality automotive component manufacturers. After all, we’re all becoming a little tired of online conference calls and, even though we can’t yet visit each others’ facilities, are keen to meet face-to-face for a cup of coffee.
Jim Fissinger is a Vice President at TDK. Jim and his team are managing TDK's Automotive sales activities for the North American market