The Process of Change
Is Well Under Way
Changes to mobility are evident in many areas, but where do society, politics, and industry really stand?
Professor Henning Kagermann, President of Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering and Chairman of the National Platform for Electric Mobility, and Kurt Lehmann, Corporate Technology Officer (CTO) at Continental, talk about the opportunities and challenges associated with e-mobility, automated driving, and connectivity.
Every classic started life as an innovation. For those who want to see with their own eyes how much automobility has continued to evolve over the years, this is an experience best suited to an environment full of historic cars – such as Klassikstadt in Frankfurt am Main. Surrounded by iconic vehicles, two experts for whom technology is the air they breathe – Professor Henning Kagermann and Kurt Lehmann met to exchange their views on the quantum leap that lies ahead.
We are entering a new era of mobility.
How far are we already in this change process?
Kagermann: We can already see a paradigm shift in the mobility sector that can be described by the well-known acronym CASE, which stands for connected, autonomous, shared and electric. With regards to electrification, I believe we have come very far because now there is the general believe that electric vehicles are the future. This was not always true, particularly not in Germany five years ago. It might take a little longer to get the electric cars on the road than we thought, but I think there is a general agreement that electric mobility is the future. With regard to connectivity, we are on the right track, but more large scale testing in urban and rural area is still needed. Considering the field of automation, we find a more differentiated picture for there are different levels of automation. We have just finished an acatech study on fully automated and driverless cars. And as much as I believe in mixed traffic – that means a situation where non-automated cars, fully automated cars with a driver as fallback option and all other participants like pedestrians share the streets – I have my doubts whether we, at least in the next ten years, will be able to prepare the regulations, and everything else that is necessary, for completely driverless cars.
Lehmann: I agree with what you said regarding electromobility – and we’re a little bit slow. We’re waiting for consumer pull, but if you look at things like an iPad or a cellular phone, consumers didn’t know what they needed or wanted. At the end of the day, it is up to us to come up with the right product, the right balance for that product, which means a bit of a paradigm shift.
But are we in a disruptive mode? Do we feel as though we’re changing? I would say if you look at the change in ride-sharing, before automated driving, let’s continue with a driver in place. The behavior of the consumer is absolutely disruptive and it is showing us that in just a few short years from now, when the technology catches up to remove the driver, the environment and consumer behavior should already be there. The new drivers or the new non-drivers, the people under 18 years old and the handicapped who are going to benefit from it, I think we’re going to see a major expansion on the use cases that go along with it. And back to the iPad, my mother at seventy-six uses a computer and an iPad today. So that says that everybody’s mind can change.
What will road traffic look like in 2030?
To what extent will it be automated, connected and electrified?
Lehmann: If you look at the level of technology, let’s say in the three spectrums, I think we’re still wrestling with two of them: electromobility and connectivity. Because nobody really knows exactly what the configuration of the car should like for the future. And in the spirit of electromobility, as we talked about looking at this beautiful car here, how much range do you necessarily need, because you are carrying that range around with you. If you only travel 50 km a day, you’re carrying around with you 400 km of potential range, which is a waste.
And then with connectivity, there is still a lot of discussion on exactly what will the user expect when he gets into the vehicle. Will he expect to see displays and will his world be on display? Or will he get in with his smartphone and take his persona with him, but leave it in the smartphone and continue to use that as the interface. As he gets in, the heating elements adjust to what he wants – he doesn’t have to do anything. But when it comes to automated driving, artificial intelligence is really taking some major leaps. Automated driving isn’t science fiction. It’s happening.
What are the core developments in terms of automation, connectivity, electrification?
Kagermann: My view – of what will hopefully come next with electric vehicles – is that I can decide over time how large my battery will be. So that I can buy an electric vehicle with a smaller battery, which would be cheaper. Two or three years later I would have the chance to add another module for a few thousand dollars, which would give me more range. I think that would be smart.
When it comes to connectivity, my concern is that we will need it to be suitable for the Internet of Things. That means 5G with guaranteed latency, which is necessary for autonomous driving. It will take time to build this infrastructure because it is only useful when being set up as an integrated, holistic system.
Lehmann: You’re absolutely right in what could happen, depending on what type of connectivity you have. For this reason, Continental is working now with satellite companies, which therefore changes the connectivity equation a bit. But with the vehicle itself, when you think about functional safety, it must, unto itself, still remain safe. And so, depending on the reliability of the connection, it can change how the vehicle performs, and if connectivity goes away, maybe the speed of the vehicle drops, but it is still bringing you from point A to point B. So, this really is a fascinating ecosystem when you think of all the players, all the infrastructure, and then all that information coming into one vehicle to make it function appropriately.
But there is another thing you said when you talked about the battery and maybe the scalability of the battery when it comes back to automated driving. In the future, people are not going to buy a vehicle that is able to pull a two-ton trailer up and down the “Stelvio Pass” (mountain pass in northern Italy). They’re going to buy a vehicle that gets them to work and back. And on the weekend, they’ll get a different vehicle for hauling things from a furniture shop. We do that today. For fifty dollars, you can get your pickup truck – that’s ride-sharing.
Where does Europe stand compared with China and North America, for example?
Kagermann: If you look at those markets that are leading, you have to make a distinction between leading supplier and lead market. Regarding electric vehicles, Germany is well on the way to become a leading supplier. I would say we have an advantage here.
If you look at leading markets, I guess China is number one. First, for China it is easier because it has the largest market in the world; everybody wants to be a player there. Second, the Chinese government uses instruments we cannot and in many cases, should not apply. For example, we know that they protect their market pretty heavily and are able to restrict access in major cities in favor to electric cars. But at the end of the day, we have to agree that China will definitely be an important leading market in electric vehicles. However, I hope that Germany will be one of the leading markets in due course. When it comes to highly automated driving, my view is that Germany is pretty advanced. China is not there yet. If regulation is faster in the U.S., then in my point of view, the U.S. will have an advantage, not so much as a technology supplier and producer, but by adopting it.
Smart cities like Barcelona, Lisbon and Singapore will have a major impact on market development.Kurt Lehmann,
Corporate Technology Officer (CTO) von Continental
Lehmann: I do definitely believe that in Europe and Germany there is a certain technology focus, and there could be a debate to see whether the approach to technology will be faster in North America or in Germany, taking the regulation away from it. We see electric cars from a well-known American electric-car maker on the road today, which is a bit more evolutionary and pragmatic, you could argue. It could also be considered revolutionary because they’ve put something out there. But there is such acceleration, an acceleration of everybody’s mindset and thinking, and if you look to the smart cities – Barcelona, Lisbon, Singapore – and Costa Rica, a smart country, these are going to have a major influence on what we do and who will end up being a leader, because I think it will be segmented. Leadership will change in the approach. Being an American guy, this is debate I have with my colleagues often. Is it technology? Is it mindset? Is it regulation? Is it consumer flexibility? And if you think of automated driving in America, intracity, it has a much greater use case than in Europe where it is more congested, where many of the use cases are based on a chaotic city environment. So again, that’s not really a fair comparison of technology or market leadership, it’s more a discussion on acceptance in the society and the use case in that particular region. As a global player, we’re in the good position to support various countries with their different approaches.
Kagermann: It is interesting if you look into the discussion in Germany. Our government, as you know, set three goals in 2010: We want to be the leading supplier, a lead market and have one million cars on the roads in 2020. We consider the change to electric mobility not only as a technological question or a number of vehicles, but as a change of an entire system that transcends the boundaries of traditional industrial sectors, including energy supply and the charging infrastructure. At the heart of this system are the users. So, we chose a holistic approach. However, now everybody is focusing on the absolute number of one million. If we achieve this target we are a leading market; if not, we are not – which I think is wrong. Finally, it is not only the number of cars, but also the quality of the entire system that makes a successful market. We should face the challenges in building up the charging infrastructure and, of course, broadening our range of new electric models to meet the users’ demands.
Lehmann: I think it’s important, because we were talking about the market in Germany. Let’s use that as the example. Hanover and Frankfurt have the green sticker that says this is an emission-appropriate vehicle. So, the cities have a major influence on electrification. And they might be looking at one million and saying: Are you crazy? Let’s make it five million.
And who is responsible for achieving this goal? Industry, politicians, society or all of them?
Lehmann: What was fascinating in Germany was that the people said that they don’t want nuclear energy anymore. And that is probably the most black and white example of the power of the people in the political system, and the result is an incredible change in the power spectrum within Germany. I can see these kinds of pressures coming, because cities are in a dire situation in many cases – worldwide. We in the automobile industry need to consider that and support it.
Kagermann: When setting up the NPE, all stakeholders committed themselves very early to making electric mobility a success. If we want to stay the leading supplier of electric cars, it will require a continuing close collaboration between industry and scientific community, because research and development is still one key success factor.
Regarding market ramp-up, the German government did the right thing in pushing electric mobility with measures such as the buying incentive and the program for charging infrastructure. Now it is time for the automobile and energy industries to commit themselves. Sales and marketing incentives from OEMs have to show that electric cars are already here. Last but not least, also cities have their own responsibility. It would be great if the cities would be more vocal when it comes to electric cars. For example, the German Law on Electric Mobility of 2016 gives cities the possibility to allow electric cars to use the bus lanes, which they have not done. Why not give it a try for a limited time?
How can we reduce costs, particularly of batteries, while at the same time increasing the range of electric cars?
Kagermann: It’s not so much the range. In 70 to 80 percent of the cases in which people refused to buy an electric vehicle, cost was the factor. Today we know that the costs of a battery electric vehicle are still too high.
But there is a silver lining: Battery prices are decreasing rapidly, and the next generation of cells will probably be even cheaper. With regards to the traditional combustion engines the opposite will be the case. Costs will go up because greenhouse-gas emissions will be indirectly priced. The EU regulation concerning emission performance standards for new passenger cars requires an average of 95 g CO2/km for fleets from 2020 onwards. Given that, I am an optimist and believe that in seven or eight year’s time, all-electric vehicles will be cheaper to drive than conventional cars.
Lehmann: That crossover point is really debatable. We have to be careful not to look at things separately, meaning that if you bring the electric vehicle together with ride-sharing, if you consider the average number of miles driven by a person per day, then why are we still carrying around 400 km of range. That does increase the cost of ownership quite a bit. I really think we need to get started now outside of that paradigm and really start considering the type of vehicle, and take a little bit of a leap of faith, thinking about ride-sharing, thinking about where cities are going to go, thinking about what people will be willing to pay for and accept. Because if we wait too long, we are going to be behind the expectation of the consumer and the regulators. It gets back to Steve Jobs: “You can’t listen to the market. You’ve got to make the market.
Wireless charging is intended to make electromobility considerably more attractive. In terms of technology and infrastructure, how far away are we from implementing this?
Kagermann: Let’s start with the charging infrastructure. The German National Platform for Electric Mobility (NPE) estimates that we need 70,000 normal charging points and 7,100 fast charging points in 2020. The German Government is well on the way with its program for charging infrastructure with a volume of € 300 million. Experts believe there will be a mixture of fast, normal and wireless charging stations. As a user, I think wireless charging is the most convenient. I wouldn’t have to plug it in, I just drive in. Of course, there is a great potential for automation. In the future, cars will be able to charge themselves and communicate directly with the charging infrastructure. In April of this year, the NPE will publish a new report that will also tackle the preconditions for international standardization of wireless charging – an important step forward.
Lehmann: I agree with you. And here’s one of these elements that is an unknown for the future. I have these fun arguments with colleagues. People have no problem going to a gas pump and putting in a smelly, messy hose. Why would they have problem plugging a car in? Every night you plug in your cell phone – and the action is not that much different.
But on the other side, especially if you’re talking out of the house, like in an office environment or fast charging at a charging station, then it really becomes a more viable discussion. But then there’s the on-cost again. We’re talking total cost of ownership for an electric vehicle again. That is a huge negative impact. And if you look at what people will do to save money on their vehicle, I really think a lot of people would still rather just plug it in.
But the infrastructure question comes into play also. The larger apartment buildings in some of these countries can’t have charging, because you’ll never get the pipeline to make that happen. So, these are the kinds of questions that are still open. But they need to be closed relatively quickly, because the consumer is going to question why we’re not ready.
What was your first car and are you driving an electric car?
Kagermann: For me that’s easy if you look at my age. Like most of my colleagues in my age, it was a Volkswagen Beetle. For the last three years, I have driven an i3 and I’m very happy with my electric car. However, I have to admit I don’t have just one car. For longer journeys, I use a different car. But I’m driving my electric car 80 percent of the time.
Lehmann: My first car was also a Volkswagen Beetle. And it was the ugly color we saw over there.
Kagermann: I had a red one.
Lehmann: I guess you did a lot better with the girls than I did then. Actually, we don’t have an electric car today, but believe it or not, my wife and I have been talking about it quite a bit, trying to figure how we want to balance that.
The interview was conducted in January 2017 at the Klassikstadt Frankfurt, Germany by Marcus Lieberum, Brand Communications Continental AG.
You can find more information about the drive electrification of hybrid and electric vehicles with Continental technology here.
Continental Magazine Issue 1/2017