Electric vehicles (EV) are on the move. According to McKinsey, “OEMs plan to launch around 400 new BEVs by 2025, with a strong focus on medium-sized and large vehicles.” And numbers from Statista project that EV sales will grow from about 26 percent of all vehicle sales in 2030 to over 80 percent by 2050.
Electric vehicles are a small but growing part of the global automotive market, and automakers are trying different technologies to compete for market share. That creates many opportunities for their suppliers to manufacture a range of specialized components as EVs continue to evolve. Here are five recent developments we think are worth watching closely.
Batteries are critical to driving range, that is, the distance a vehicle can travel between full charges. And range is often seen as the key to convincing consumers to make the switch. After all, who wants to stop to recharge every 80 miles? Others posit as long as charging is fast, shorter ranges might be acceptable, since most of us typically make short-distance trips the majority of the time.
Automakers continue to innovate to improve battery weight, energy density, and efficiency, all of which can increase range and charging speed. Here are some examples:
1. Building a Better Battery
The addition of silicone to standard graphite anodes, or replacing graphite with silicone altogether, to increase range and charge speed
Replacing graphite with titanium dioxide gel for faster charging
Development of solid-state batteries for faster charging, which replaces flammable electrolyte fluids with solids like polymers or ceramics, and creates a cell with more power density in a compact footprint
Lithium-air batteries to reduce battery weight, which impacts range. According to Driving.ca’s David Booth, “By sourcing the needed oxygen from the air (as a combustion engine does), rather than storing it in the battery, a Li-Air battery can be 10 times more energy dense than a traditional Li-ion version. That means a smaller battery can generate increased range.”
2. Charging Infrastructure
As lithium-ion batteries continue to become more efficient and new battery chemistries and compositions evolve, ranges of several hundred miles are increasingly common. This in turn could spur consumer adoption even before a robust public charging infrastructure is widely available. But there’s still a mindset shift required for longer trips including taking time to map out charging stations and planning for downtime during the recharge period.
Related to this is development of a charging infrastructure that can accommodate growing demand. And even if people do the majority of their charging from home, as Pew notes, “if many people … charge right when they get home from work — as many currently do — the system could get overloaded or force utilities to deliver more electricity than they’re currently capable of producing.”
3. Platform Possibilities
As we’ve said before, OEMs use different platforms for their vehicles. Some develop entirely new designs for electric vehicles to accommodate battery packs, so-called native EV platforms, and others base their designs on legacy internal combustion engine frameworks. Many native EVs have more space for batteries and therefore offer better driving range. However, as battery efficiency and downsizing improve, this advantage could diminish. At the moment, however, the best driving range seems to come down on the side of native EV platforms, built from the battery pack footprint out.
While there is no universal design at this time, OEM suppliers need to be ready to support evolving power trains and component layouts with clips, fasteners, brackets, plates, and other parts.
4. Over-the-Air (OTA) Updates
Modern cars rely heavily on computing power for everything from power distribution and temperature regulation to radio controls and driver assistance features. As with any electronic device, periodic software upgrades are necessary to keep the system up to date and functioning properly. Wi-Fi connectivity in vehicles allows OEMs to push updates over-the-air (OTA) rather than requiring drivers to bring vehicles in for planned maintenance. Just like your phone or laptop gets an operating system upgrade remotely, OEMS will be able to push required software upgrades or debug systems.
This ongoing opportunity to sell services and features to existing customers may be an important source of revenue for automakers, suppliers, and vehicle accessory sellers because maintenance and repair income tend to be lower over the lifetime of electric vehicles. It’s also a way to continue to get the latest features into a customer’s car after the fact. Examples could include features that enable cars to signal each other’s ADAS systems of lane changes, unlocking built-in but as-yet inactive devices like dashboard cameras, or upgrading navigation or weather tracking features.
5. Connectivity and User Experience
Connectivity also relates to what are called vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and infotainment features. As a result, our cars may soon have many of the same convenience and productivity features as our cell phones and smart watches. Imagine paying for fuel or a recharge simply by pulling up to the pump thanks to a contactless payment app linking your car to your credit card. Or receiving up-to-the-minute traffic and weather updates from the local department of transportation, or restaurant and amenity updates from the local chamber of commerce.
Remember that such connectivity is a two-way street. Dealers, retailers, and government entities can send upgrades and information to our cars, but they can also gather and use our driving and buying behavior. (For more information read “Unlocking the full life-cycle value from connected-car data”, McKinsey Insights, McKinsey & Company, February 11, 2021.) In terms of maintenance and safety, Ward’s Auto says this: “As connected car data grows and artificial intelligence improves to compare historical data to live vehicle data, algorithms determining when or if a part might break will allow drivers to get notices about imminent failures rather than alerts about existing malfunctions.” And then there’s the ability to capture and monetize driver and vehicle data for things from insurance rates, to in-vehicle entertainment packages, to personalized trip planning and product offers. Research from Auto Pacific indicates younger drivers are the most likely to want these features.
Of course, the key to all of this is widespread and reliable Wi-Fi on a nationwide scale. And vehicles must be able to transmit and receive data signals with minimal interference, which means effective shielding, and thermal management components. (CEP Technologies June 16, 2020 blog post: “The Impact of Electromagnetic and Radiofrequency Interference (EMI/RFI)”)
For the precision stamping industry, all of these developments mean as EV adoption spreads and becomes a bigger portion of automotive manufacturing, flexibility is critical. Stampers must have the presses and expertise to work with new designs for small metal components:
- Electronic components for door locks, key fobs, switches, and accessories
- EMI shielding products to protect against incomplete or distorted signals internally between vehicle systems
- EMI shielding to enable Wi-Fi connectivity with external sources of information and data
- Clips, connectors, and brackets to hold miniature electronic components in place
No one knows exactly what EV technology will look like as it evolves, but even though designs and end uses change, the need for small to miniature progressive stamped parts doesn’t. At CEP Technologies, we’re ready for whatever the future holds.