Continental: Electromobility 'Still Young' But 'Coming Of Age Now'

Today, José A. Avila, Executive Board Member of automotive supplier Continental AG and Head of the company’s Powertrain Division, delivered a speech at the eMobility Summit in Berlin.

Views on electromobility together with strategic consequences of the international automotive supplier Continental were at the center of his keynote address.

“Continental feels committed to electromobility and the electrification of vehicle functions. Together with customers the company has pioneered battery applications, power electronics, electric motors, and energy management” he said.

Among the industry-first examples, which the head of Continental’s Powertrain Division listed, is the series production of electric vehicle traction motors without rare earth magnets.

Avila also confirmed that Continental continues to improve combustion engine technology.

“The combustion engine needs to be further optimized to fulfill its task without overly impacting climate and environment. After all, 95 percent of all vehicles manufactured over the next 10 years will still have a combustion engine.”

Avila also stated there is no clash between electrification and the combustion engine.

“To make the combustion engine fit for the oncoming transition period requires the help of electrification. The two form a winning team, he said. “The transition from fossil fuel to electric energy will not be abrupt but continuous. Our goal is to help make that transition as smooth and as successful as possible.”

To illustrate the challenges of electrifying individual mobility Avila presented highlights from the Continental Mobility Study, a large international study, carried out by the market research institute infas on behalf of the automotive supplier in 2011. According to its findings, both the price of e-vehicles and range anxiety are the biggest hurdles. Moreover motorists’ concerns about range appear to be more anxiety than reason: “even drivers who only travel short distances of up to 30 km worry greatly about the possibility that the vehicle range is insufficient. According to the 4,000 people surveyed, cars are actually parked most of the day and during the night, which offers plenty of charging time. Nearly every second car was not used at all on the day of the survey. Therefore we do not only need technological solutions, we also need open communication.” Avila’s bottom line was: Motorists are still in their very early learning curve about e-vehicles but they are “open to electromobility.”

To make electromobility affordable, standardization on the component level will help to resolve the chicken and egg dilemma of low manufacturing numbers and resulting cost levels, the Continental Board Member explained. On the technology side electrified powertrains may require a whole list of new solutions. This includes a new form of energy management in the car. “In an electrified vehicle different forms of energy have to be considered and have to be coordinated. Ideally this will go beyond the level of the individual car.”

Networking cars with the Internet and cell phones is a core requirement of electromobility: “To get the most out of the limited battery capacity, the driver needs to have access to all sorts of relevant information. This includes the weather, traffic situation, route topography options, and available charging stations. E-vehicles will massively benefit from being “Always On.”

New solutions for heating the cabin of an electric vehicle without increasing the demand on the traction battery are also among the activities Continental is currently working on.

Even straightforward vehicle functions such as the braking system are more challenging in an e-vehicle: “In a hybrid or electric car the blending of wheel brakes and regenerative braking requires a complete separation of the brake pedal from the braking system. Our new integrated electro-hydraulic braking system, MK C1 was developed to optimize this blending – plus it offers brake dynamics that set a new benchmark. Low friction tires such as the Conti.eContact, which was especially developed for e-vehicles, will also help to maximize range”, the Continental Board Member explained.

Avila concluded his speech by saying: “Electromobility is still young but it is coming of age now. Electromobility has the potential to become a cornerstone of sustainable individual mobility. It is the future – and we have begun to industrialize it.”