When An Electric Horse Meets a Diesel Dinosaur
Magesh Srinivasan, Global Head – Connected Car & Artificial Intelligence, HCL Technologies, considers an alternative history where electric vehicles had prevailed and envisions the real future of automobiles and their impact on the environment.
Magesh Srinivasan is a global technology professional and a thought leader in Autonomous Cars, Deep Learning and Smart Mobility Solutions. He is a graduate of MIT Sloan, Senior Leadership Program in Strategy and Innovation. He has worked and delivered outstanding results in strategic roles in his 20-year global career with companies such as Bosch, Black & Decker, Sony Corporation, Blaupunkt and HCL Technologies. He can be reached at: email@example.com and www.linkedin.com/in/mitmagesh
The year 1898 was a landmark year when Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the Porsche car company, invented the world’s first Electric Vehicle (EV) named Porsche P1. The following year, Mr Porsche won the Gold in the Berlin international exhibition’s Motor Car Race. The event had 120 exhibitors, including 19 makers of EV. The historic race was a return trip from Berlin to Zehlendorf. Mr Porsche, with three passengers in his P1, crossed the finish line with an 18-minute lead!
Mr Porsche was far ahead of his times; he invented the Wheel-Hub Engine (an electric motor called ‘Octagon’ attached to the wheel). He designed, developed and demonstrated the All-Wheel Drive vehicle as well as a Hybrid Electric-Petrol vehicle. Decades later, NASA applied the All-Wheel Drive design concept in the Moon Rover. Despite his brilliant inventions and sales of about 300 EVs, diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles, prevailed all-through history, significantly impacting the course of human development, albeit, at a heavy price. The human race has staged wars for the control of fossil fuels. In 2006, a documentary titled “An Inconvenient Truth” about former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign on global warming illustrated the impact of polluting our planet and upsetting the delicate balance maintained by Mother Nature.
We have a responsibility to ‘not borrow more than what we need’ from Earth’s finite resources and from our future generations. Let us pledge to make a change today, to an eco-friendly way of life, being fully awake and aware that the change lies within each of us.
What If EVs Had Prevailed
I sometimes wonder – could there be a parallel universe, wherein, Porsche’s P1 EV was fully commercialised and adopted by the industry in the formative years of automotive development, thus giving rise to a new world order. EVs would have become mainstream mobility solution around the world and governments would have built the charging infrastructure to ensure energy flows through the mobility ecosystem. We may have had a greener planet, where traffic was free of pollutants: noise and exhaust. A world which would have built advanced Smart Mobility Solutions powered by Solar energy, perhaps even vehicles powered by Hydrogen where the exhaust produces water. A world where it is but a privilege of a few to drive a personal car. (Just as it is to own a horse today!) Then again, the blaring noise that seeps through an open window, from the streets down below, breaks my reverie.
India has had its own visionary automobile engineer: Chetan Maini, the man who founded REVA Electric Car in the 1990s, designed, built and sold to India and to the world. Clearly, this was a commendable and a bold achievement, given that the EV ecosystem was not even at the concept stage then. ‘Fortune favours the bold,’ they say and it did indeed; Mahindra invested in REVA and the rest is history in the making.
In the new millennium, Elon Musk launched TESLA. He made an unprecedented move to start manufacturing EV in Silicon Valley. TESLA faced ridicule at first followed by criticism on its product and the business model, even survived near bankruptcy, but team TESLA endured and emerged as a force to reckon with in the business of the new-age EVs.
The Fossil-Fuel Dinosaurs of Today
I remember my days, twenty years ago, working as a trainee on projects in the diesel pump assembly line in (MICO) Bosch’s Bangalore factory. There were 386 components which were required to produce a pump – the heart of the diesel engine. Compare that to an Electric Vehicle, a finished product that has only 18 moving parts, they say!
The automotive industry is broadly a 3-tiered inverted triangle. At the base layer (tier-II) are the component manufacturers. In the middle (tier-I) are companies that produce the sub-assemblies. The uppermost tier is occupied by the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers); they assemble the automobile and produce branded car models that are stocked and distributed across retail channels that sell at showrooms. In essence, the ‘value’ created increases as it moves upward across each layer of this structure, with maximum ‘value’ being created, captured and delivered by the branded products offered by the OEM.
The said structure was designed to operate
in a Business-to-Business (B2B) model, but the industry is transforming rapidly and adding connected service platforms to serve the market with a B2C business model. A product-based value proposition is mutating into a smart-mobility-solutions value chain that delivers multi-modal mobility on demand to the consumer.
Furthermore, over the past 130 years, the industry has grown into a mature and robust structure, that has achieved manufacturing excellence and given rise to several innovations such as Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing, Total Quality Management (TQM) system and fully robotised factory operations.
The weakest link of automotive manufacturing world is its complexity that creates a very long cycle time (3-5 years) to produce new vehicle platforms and thereof new products. Thousands of precision components are manufactured all over the world, sourced and supplied into assembly lines in factories that were built on large areas of land and huge capital investment.
One can comprehend, at a high level, the various sub-systems that are integrated by an OEM to produce a modern automobile by the acronym BICEPS that stands for: Body, Interior, Chassis, Electrical/Electronic, Power train and Software. Compare that to a Google’s self-driving car. The prototype was built in a quintessential ‘American garage’ setup with custom made sub-systems. Google’s self-driving car company Waymo claims to have the most experience in cumulative road-testing miles of self-driving cars as compared to any of the auto OEMs in the race to produce a fully autonomous vehicle.
Electric Horse Farms
Two million lines of software code are required to build a Space Shuttle, similarly, 20 million lines of code goes into making an aeroplane and 200 million lines of code are written to build a Luxury Car that is powered by 125 Electronic Control Units (ECUs)!
Another, very interesting feature, common to all three modes of transport is the Autopilot feature which allows the machine to take over manual controls from the pilot (or the driver). About 15-20 percent of ‘bill-of-material’ (BOM) cost of a luxury sedan is attributed to the embedded software.
In about a decade, I foresee that automotive factories will be akin to smartphone production lines. Legacy production concepts will give way to additive manufacturing processes. Artificial Intelligence (A.I) will run robotic plants that assemble vehicles in record time. Centralised factory master control cockpits will allow remote site operations in sync with each other, self-correcting, evolving an optimal smart manufacturing rhythm. Predictive maintenance will be the order of the day as all plant machinery will be connected in real-time to an A.I. powered cloud. Blockchain will enable secure manufacturing data creation, processing and access across various commercial entities that are part of the automotive supply chain.
Automobiles of the future will be built using materials called nano composites (as opposed to metal-based) in the car body and the interiors. Graphene (single atom layer of graphite) demonstrates photo-electro chemical properties in dye-sensitised Solar cells – the material releases electrons when exposed to sunlight. Now, imagine a car painted with layers of Graphene-based paint, producing electricity from Solar energy, augmented and accelerated by the power drawn from very high density energy storage devices called Super Capacitors that have Graphene-conductive plates in them. Further, Graphene will also improve the existing Lithium-ion based battery technologies in EVs and Hybrid Vehicles. Battery Management Systems (BMS) will be integrated with the operating systems of the automobile and ensure real-time monitoring and control of energy flow in the vehicle providing display parameters such as: Distance to Empty (DTE), State of Charge (SoC) and State of Health (SoH).
Real-time navigation systems in sync with BMS will enable quick identification of battery charging stations located in a smart city ecosystem.
To A Sustainable Future
The universe is about 13 billion years old, in that vast expanse of time, the human brain evolved over a period of billion years or so. Our advances within the collective consciousness have given rise to human growth and prosperity. The extent of our understanding of the various elements that make up the universe we live in, is, at best, nascent. We have a long way to go before we crack the code of sustainable eco-friendly development that leads to happier and more fulfilling lives. We have come to understand through experiential learning that sharing, crowd-sourcing and paying forward lead to positive growth and a happier people. On the other hand, investing in ‘narrow’ application technologies to achieve world dominance leads to unsustainable successes. Let us participate with pure intentions to create legacies that are seeds to a better world!
The weakest link of automotive manufacturing world is its complexity that creates a very long cycle time to produce new vehicle platforms and new products.
Two million lines of software code are required to build a Space Shuttle, similarly, 20 million lines of code goes into making an aeroplane and 200 million lines of code are written to build a Luxury Car that is powered by 125 Electronic Control Units!
In about a decade, I foresee that automotive factories will be akin to smartphonev production lines. Legacy production concepts will give way to additive manufacturing processes. Artificial Intelligence (A.I) will run robotic plants that assemble vehicles in