Vincent Hiligsmann – Corporate Strategy Core Markets
21st Century powertrains are an integrated combination of internal combustion engines (ICEs), batteries, transmissions, motors and complex control systems. The technology has been constantly evolving ever since the first powertrains saw the light of day in the late 1800s, but in recent years there have been enormous and rapid changes being experienced. These are the result of three major trends: pressure to reduce fuel consumption, tighter regulation on toxic emissions and the electrification of vehicles.
Pressure to reduce fuel consumption
Today, there’s wide public support for reducing fuel consumption and consequently striving for less CO2 emissions (a consumption of 1 litre per 100 kilometre corresponds to 23 grams of CO2 per kilometre for a gasoline engine and 27 grams of CO2 for a diesel engine). This is a primary factor in optimizing the powertrain itself (engine and transmission), supported by secondary factors such as the transfer of functions traditionally associated with a combustion engine to high-efficiency electrical motors and less dependency on fossil fuels.
If we look back at the past two decades, for the first decade there was a small yet steady decline in the grams of CO2 per kilometre (average reduction of 1% per year). The inflection point came in 2007; the automotive sector received a wake-up call when directives were put in place to achieve the European target of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre (equivalent to an average fuel consumption of 3.8 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometre for the entire fleet) by 2020. From that moment in time, the figure jumped to an average annual reduction of 4%.
The pressure to reduce vehicle CO2 emissions is not limited to Europe; faster CO2 reduction for vehicles is a worldwide objective. The US has set the goal of 97 grams per kilometre by 2025 (though it must be acknowledged that the new administration in place is currently trying to reverse this legislation), China wants to reduce CO2 emissions to 117 grams per kilometre by 2020 and South Korea is striving to achieve 97 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020.
As the target dates approach and the set emission reductions are likely to remain unchanged, vehicle manufacturers will be even more pressurised to achieve the drive test cycle objectives on which consumption and emission are measured.
Tighter regulation for toxic emissions
In Europe, diesel cars currently account for about half of all light-duty vehicles. This is mainly driven by the 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre requirement. A diesel vehicle is better rated in terms of CO2 emissions than a comparable gasoline engine. But when it comes to the emission of toxic gases such as NOx, CO, HC and PM (Particulate Matter), a gasoline engine is favourable to a diesel one. The regulations concerning those emissions are tightening all the time. In Europe, for example, since the first Euro standard in 1992 and the most recent one (Euro 6), the NOx emission limits have been reduced from 0.97 grams per kilometre to 0.06 grams per kilometre for gasoline engines and 0.08g/km for diesel engines. Same trends for the PM: from 0.14 grams per kilometre under Euro 1 to 0.0045 grams per kilometre under Euro 6 and it is no longer applicable to diesel engines only as modern GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) are also critical for PM. Moreover, Euro 6C, the last derivate of Euro 6 legislation that was introduced at the beginning of this year, includes a worldwide harmonized light-duty test cycle (WLTC) and a real driving emissions (RDE) test with a conformity factor of up to 2.1. From 2020 onwards, the same legislation (Euro 6D) will impose a conformity factor of 1.5. So tighter regulation is undoubtedly driving the implementation of cleaner and more efficient powertrain technology.
Electrification is ramping up
Given that car makers are facing much tighter constraints on emissions, they also have to hedge their bets with a variety of powertrains to be able to achieve the regulatory targets which are specified for new vehicle and at fleet level. Many different traditional motor fuels are still used in the various car markets worldwide, but there’s a clear trend towards more hybridization and electrification. For example, the short-term expectation is that hybrid cars will become equivalent to diesel today, with a predicted market share of 20% by 2024. And, according to KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017, one in three consumers plan to buy a full hybrid car as their next car. Whereas, with the exception of the Japanese and Californian markets, very few hybrid cars have been sold up until now but this will change drastically over the coming years. In that sense, hybridization and ultimately electrification are evolving from an emerging market into an established one.
Besides producing lower emissions, the electric motor also offers some major efficiency advantages. The ICE is quite a large mass; for instance, there are more than 200 moving parts in a conventional engine. Compare this with the Tesla AC induction motor, which has just one moving part and is the size of a watermelon. The efficiency advantage is immediately clear, since weight and energy consumption go hand in hand. While with heat dissipation, the energy efficiency of a gasoline ICE is about 30% (diesel scores slightly better with 40%), the energy efficiency of electric vehicles exceeds 90% at the vehicle level and 60% from grid to wheels. In that sense, hybridization and electrification are the answer to achieve the challenging targets. It will also stimulate investment in evolutionary and revolutionary powertrain technologies.
Increased need for sensors and ICs
The pursuit of lower consumption and emissions, spurred on by tighter directives and legislation, is creating a greater need for next generation sensor technology and the automotive electronics industry must respond accordingly. To reduce emission levels, conventional ICE manufacturers are constantly seeking improvements in terms of air intake, exhaust gas, fuel, ignition, thermal and shifting management. Robust, high accuracy position, speed, pressure and current sensors, accompanied by advanced sensor interface ICs, can generate the necessary data needed to support vehicle manufacturers in their goal of complying with this regulation.
The same goes for the electrification wave, which is increasing the need for current, position and speed sensors and also driver ICs such as gate drivers, pre-drivers and motor drivers.