Electric Vehicle Technology R&D Trends

The electrification of vehicles has long been considered a practical advancement of automotive technology. With many Canadians and global automotive customers shifting their mindset away from internal combustion engines (ICEs), electric vehicles need to be seriously considered by technology developers and automotive manufacturers. Even the shipping and logistics industry is considering how fleets of vehicles can be transitioned towards electric powertrains; this offers a sizable opportunity for the development of electric vehicle components and systems.

While the electrification of vehicles is underway, the timing of mass market acceptance and type of electric powertrain remains uncertain.

Between consumer demand and advancements in technology, the market will require many types of electric and hybrid over the coming decades before a leading system replaces ICEs as standard in most new vehicles.

Technology developers and automotive manufacturers need to offer a range of options during this time and reduce the cost of alternative powertrains to help address consumer preferences. This creates significant opportunities but will only be available to those companies committed to investing in innovative research and development projects.

How Electric Vehicles Are Driving Automotive Innovation

Led by consumer demand for vehicles that are environmentally sustainable, electric vehicle technologies are becoming increasingly commonplace. While it was rare, or at least uncommon, to see electric and hybrid vehicles years ago, there is a growing market for these types of powertrains today and many consumers have switched with no intentions of purchasing a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle ever again.

There are more options for full-electric or partially-electric vehicles than ever before. Hybrids play an important role in transitioning consumers, but a purely electric future is likely.

As automotive manufacturers and technology developers work to bring hybrids and electric vehicles to the forefront of consumer options, there are still many key technologies to be developed. Energy storage systems, electric motors, power electronics, and EV charging infrastructure are all needing advancement before the market shifts towards electric vehicles with greater velocity. Canadian businesses can leverage this opportunity to become an important piece of the global automotive landscape.

Types of Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Powertrains

Giving consumers options when it comes to electrified powertrains will undoubtedly accelerate the adoption of EVs, but makes it harder for automotive manufacturers and OEMs to keep up with technology advancements. Manufacturers must assess current market demand while also exploring trends that predict consumer interest in the short- and long-term.

While certain models of hybrids are popular today, there’s an absolute need to invest in pure electric powertrains to ensure that companies keep up with shifting consumer demands. Automotive suppliers need to stay a step ahead of consumers so that when demand increases, they have the technologies needed to address market demand.

The Center for Automotive Research’s Technology Roadmap report takes a very future-oriented approach to examining EV and hybrid adoption rates through 2030. It predicts that even by 2030, global penetration of pure battery electric vehicles will only be approximately 6-9%, with hybrid systems accounting for a much greater share of the market. KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey backs up these findings, suggesting that automotive manufacturers are still investing in a wide range of vehicle propulsion systems.

Some of the emerging powertrain technologies that will continue to grow and require development in coming years include:

  • Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): Entirely propelled from electric energy stored internally. These vehicles need to be recharged through external sources of electricity, typically from plugging into a wall socket, and are limited in range based on the battery’s size and engine’s power output.
  • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV): Uses a fuel cell, instead of a battery, to power its on-board electric motor. Fuel cells generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen; this requires drivers to refuel where hydrogen is provided. Most fuel cell vehicles are classified as zero-emissions vehicles because they only emit water and heat.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): Any vehicle that can be recharged from external sources of electricity, such as wall sockets, but also combines conventional (usually gasoline or diesel-powered) powertrains to complement electric performance.
  • Full Hybrid Electric Vehicle (FHEV): Runs only on a combustion engine, only an electric motor, or a combination of both. These vehicles have a split power path, allowing greater flexibility in the drivetrain by interconverting mechanical and electrical power, enabling the driver to choose which power source is used.
  • 48-Volt Stop/Start Mild Hybrid: As the least electrified type of hybrid, a “mild hybrid” uses a conventional combustion engine with an oversized starter motor that can also be used as a generator, and an oversized battery that powers and is recharged by the motor. In a mild hybrid, the engine must always be on while the vehicle is moving; however, the engine can be turned off while the vehicle is in idle. At high energy output, the motor/generator assists the engine and increases vehicle performance. At low energy output, it increases load on the engine and recharges the electric battery.

Key Technologies Required for Electric Vehicle Market Growth

To reach a future of full electrification, there are many technologies that must first be developed. Advancing technologies provides consumers with greater confidence in the safety and reliability of systems, while also reducing cost and enabling better flexibility for OEMs to include them in their vehicle designs. Canadian manufacturers and technology developers should explore how they can contribute to developing electric vehicle systems, such as:

  • Energy Storage: A central issue in getting consumers to switch to EVs is convincing them that vehicle range is sufficient and won’t leave them stranded in a place where it’s not possible to recharge. Storage systems need to improve without growing in size or cost, otherwise it will be less feasible for OEMs and consumers to adopt electric vehicles.
  • Electric Motors: Motor performance is also a concern among traditional vehicle drivers that are yet to move away from internal combustion engines. Although batteries might provide sufficient range, does the vehicle have enough power to propel it at speeds required by users? Also, does power become depleted as battery levels drop? Establishing performance similar to gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles is an important factor for consumers.
  • Power Electronics: Hybrid vehicles often require switching between electronic and fuel-based systems to propel vehicles. The switching and conversion process relies on several components, including a generator, charger, and converter. New electronic systems could further improve hybrid performance and efficiency, leading to increased adoption rates.
  • Charging Infrastructure: Battery chargers, either home-based or available for public use, are essential to making electric and hybrid vehicle options more feasible. Home-based charging systems need to be energy efficient and keep electricity costs low, while also being easy to install and use. Likewise, public charging infrastructure needs to be accessible and abundantly available so that those who need recharging do not have to go out of their way. Implementing universal charging systems that work with all electric vehicle and hybrid options would make it easier for consumers, although with changing technologies and many brands developing charging systems, this might not be feasible.

Learn More: Electric Vehicle Technology Development Opportunities

Canadian innovators can lead the shift from traditional powertrains to hybrid and electric vehicles through proactive research and development projects. Manufacturers and technology developers have significant opportunities to leverage Canada’s innovation ecosystem to speed technology development, which offers companies an advantage over global competitors.

To learn more about electric vehicles and develop a strategy for profiting from these technologies, please download our Electric and Autonomous Vehicle Trends white paper.

 

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Jeff Shepherd holds an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Guelph. He is passionate about Canadian business, economics, and politics. As Marketing Coordinator for Mentor Works, Jeff educates business leaders about proactive funding strategies.

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