2/11/2019

What Is the Future of Powertrains?

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There were massive reverberations late last year when it was reported that Volkswagen plans to develop no new internal combustion engine (ICE) platforms after 2026.

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There were massive reverberations late last year when it was reported that Volkswagen plans to develop no new internal combustion engine (ICE) platforms after 2026. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there won’t be a plethora of gasoline- and, yes, diesel powered mills rolling off lines in Volkswagen Group plants around the world after that date. Rather, that while the company will continue to refine and produce the engines for some time to come after that date, most of the companies focus will be on alternative forms of propulsion, especially electric power.

VWidconcept

Reuters reported last week that the massive OEM is investing some $91-billion in this transformation.

And VW is certainly not the only company that is making big investments in electrification. When GM announced its 2018 earnings last week, part of its messaging included the line: “In January, GM announced that Cadillac will lead the company to an all-electric future, revealing the bran’s plan for its first fully electric vehicle.”

Cadillac furthered its recent product blitz today with the reveal of the brand’s first EV. This will be the first model derived from GM’s future EV platform. GM announced on Friday that Cadillac will be at the vanguard of the company’s move towards an all-electric future.

It isn’t difficult to parse that: yes, Cadillac will be rolling out with its first fully electric vehicle, but that’s not GM’s first full EV, which was the MY 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV (semantics notwithstanding, the Volt is a plug-in hybrid, not a full EV). But the more interesting phrase is the “lead the company to an all-electric future.” Clearly, there isn’t a date on when that is going to happen, but it certainly indicates that that is where GM is headed.

So is the sun setting on the ICE? To find out, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Autoline’s John McElroy, auto/business reporter for the Detroit Free Press Phoebe Wall Howard and I talk with Brett Smith, director of Propulsion Technologies & Energy Infrastructure at the Center for Automotive Research, who has been researching this very issue for quite some time.

And perhaps not surprisingly, Smith points out that based on extensive discussions with both OEMs and suppliers, the future of the ICE is not entirely clear. Yes, there is a transition underway, but when there will be a tipping point to an electric future is something that no one really seems to have a handle on.

But a cautionary note comes out of the wide-ranging discussion. Smith points out that as there are regulations in China that are making EVs mandatory and a general sense of environmental responsibility in much of Europe that makes things like EVs more acceptable. Smith says it is the top-down in China and bottom-up in Europe. Consequently, companies in both of those places are doing significant technology development on vehicle electrification. Meanwhile, in the U.S., there is virtually no political leadership on implementing things like EVs and while some people may talk a good green game, actual commitment doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in any significant vehicle buying behavior: How else to explain the sales of pickup trucks by those whose need might be equally well served by a Focus or Malibu?

The discussion is wide-ranging and should be of interest whether you’re actually in the business of designing, developing or producing powertrains or, well, simply drive a vehicle.

And you can see it here.

Hand holding a crystal ball

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