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Continental Automotive India sees faster growth potential in electrification of the two-wheeler market in India, especially of scooters.
The company believes that it will be easier to shift towards electric two-wheelers that are powered by batteries of 48 volts and 60 volts than possibly passenger cars.
In line with this, local engineering teams have already commenced development work on power electronics, software, and charging devices so that market specific requirements can be developed for electric vehicles at its Bangalore Technical Centre.
“At the right time, we will localize the parts. We have already planned electronics for India that could accommodate products for electrification. A team of 25-30 engineers are working on electronics for electrification,” Soorajith Radhakrishnan, head - Powertrain Division, Continental Automotive India, told ETAuto.
The current development work will be ready by 2020. The engineering team at the Tech Centre of the German component supplier is working on global programmes that would sync with power electronics for control of electric drives. The entry barrier for localization is considered by the company to be low for it, as it has already localized electronics in the country.
On the electric side, the full combustion mechanism will have to be replaced by electric drives, working in collaboration with global centres for use both in India and overseas. Globally, Continental has EV technologies that focus on passenger cars, and the electric drivetrain has also been developed for the overseas markets.
“Once we go into electrification, there is a lot of advantage in integrating drive with full gear train, reducers, and axles. We have products, where we integrate the electric drive with axle motors and axle drives and integrate the power electronics into a whole package,” added Radhakrishnan.
These products are being offered in the Asian market and could come to India as well. But when the entire powertrain goes electric, an issue will pertain to the manpower involved in manufacturing engines that are rendered redundant now. They will need to find alternate employment.
“Full electric and hybrid vehicles below 60 volts will enhance the rapid growth of electrification in the two-wheeler market, as they target a mileage of 60-80 km per charge. We believe two- and three-wheelers will be prompt in adapting to electrification of vehicles because of the availability of charging options, fast charging and battery swapping facility. Continental is currently developing solutions for on-board charging for two-wheelers,” confirmed Radhakrishnan.
For buses, battery swapping can be one of the best options, where the bus on a short range of service like intra-city, completes one full stretch of trip and while returning, swaps the battery with the other one which is fully charged.
Continental will customize these solutions in India, based on demand. The supplier’s Bangalore centre will be supporting the project completely, both by designing the hardware and software. As electric vehicles gain acceptance in the Indian market, the company will explore options of localizing the entire value chain, right from R&D to manufacturing, admitted Radhakrishnan.
“Our supply chain partners are an integral part of our business. We have programmes to train our suppliers based on the requirement we have. At this point of time, we cannot discuss on the investment part, however, we will have a strong focus to develop suppliers with a continuous focus on quality,” he added. The company believes that the cars of the future will feature electric drives, which will be fully connected and automated. So, it is rapidly scaling up its R&D efforts and working on innovative technologies.
Its 48-volt mild hybrid and all-charge technologies are part of its R&D output. In 2025, Continental is gunning for a market share of around 10 per cent for pure electric drive systems and about 30 per cent for hybrid drive systems. This means that the combustion engine is actually yet to see its peak. “We do not expect to see a slow decline in volumes until after 2025,” he said.
Continental has begun production of its first 48-volt hybrid drive. From 2016-end, diesel variants of the Renault Scénic and Grand Scénic models have been equipped with it. Another promising technology is the 48-volt mild hybrid diesel engine. The 48-volt mild hybrid system not only reduces fuel consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions) but can also achieve significant reductions in pollutant emissions from diesel engines.
The electric motor, with a rated output of around 15 kW, allows braking energy to be recuperated and stored as electricity in a small lithium-ion battery that can also assist the internal combustion engine during short, sharp bursts of acceleration.
One of the other interesting technologies is the axle drive, an integrated electric drive system with inverter, electric machine and reducer. This technology benefits customers in terms of integration, sourcing and validation.
“We see plug-in hybrids as an efficient solution for high-end vehicles in the premium sector, and purely battery-fed electric vehicles as clearly belonging to the urban mobility sector. We don’t envisage the breakthrough of fuel cell technology happening before 2030. Nonetheless, internally we are preparing ourselves for it. We are currently evaluating the options for trusted technologies to act as certain system components of fuel cells (compressors, sensors), elaborated Radhakrishnan.
Going forward, technologies need to be upgraded, and more investments will be required to be made for the same in India. One of the top priorities of the government will be to set up infrastructure to support electric mobility, for easy charging of electric vehicles. One of the biggest anxieties of an EV driver is the absence of charging infrastructure that can get them stranded on the road.
The all-charge technology of Continental turns the electric powertrain into a universal charger catering to all types of cable-based charging stations. This helps in attaining maximum charge in a given power station. The bidirectional all-charge system opens up new applications for the large amounts of energy stored in the vehicle battery. The system can use the maximum output rate, up to 800V and up to 350 kW at all types of charging stations – single-phase AC, three-phase AC or high-speed DC.
Meanwhile, Continental is also developing products that will comply with the upcoming BS-VI emission norms. For instance, quite a lot of work is underway in the area of combustion optimization and exhaust after treatment with the supplier working with a few OEMs on it.
With the Centre announcing that the BS-VI fuel will be available for the new crop of vehicles in the Delhi-NCR by April 2018, Continental will have limited launches of the new products by 2019 with a heavy ramp expected in 2020.
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