Impressions from the CTI Symposium China, 25 – 27 September 2017

Impressions from the CTI Symposium China, 25 – 27 September 2017

Electrification has Many Facets

The quotas are coming. As of 2019, automotive manufacturers must have a minimum share of electrified vehicles in their Chinese portfolios. But conventional drives and transmissions will still have a chance too – the technical concepts of Chinese OEMs and suppliers are just as diverse as in other markets.

As the 6th CTI Symposium Shanghai (25-27 September 2017) showed, the question of whether combustion engines still have a future also applies in China. “Despite the euphoria surrounding electric drives, the Chinese have not forgotten combustion engines” said symposium chair Professor Ferit Küçükay in retrospect. This year’s symposium raised the bar once again, with 67 lectures offering 620 participants all the facts on new developments in transmission and drive technology. Unlike Europe and North America, China has seen strong, steady growth in vehicle registrations in recent years, though the curve has flattened of late. The gut feeling is that most of the growth is in pure EVs, but Chinese suppliers are also growing their competence in conventional and hybrid drive technology.

Green light for electrification

The Chinese government is driving electrification. From 2019, a quota system will require carmakers who build or import more than 30,000 vehicles a year to have a minimum share of electrified drive vehicles in their fleets. The figures are 10 percent in 2019 and 12 percent the following year, based on a points system that assesses electrification levels. Depending on their range, pure electric automobiles are given two to five points (FCEVs get 4 or 5); PHEVs with a minimum electric range of 50 km get two points. OEMs who miss their quotas must either pay a fine, or buy ‘credits’ from other manufacturers. As a quick glance at 2016 sales figures shows, the legislation poses a challenge for European manufacturers. According to Eurostat, Europe exported nearly 1700 electric automobiles to China in 2016; in the same year, VW alone sold almost 4 million automobiles in China, and BMW a further half a million. So some OEMs will need to ramp up their activities in the EV and PHEV sectors significantly.

The second driver for electrification is restrictive regional legislation that aims to make big city traffic local emissions-free. In Shanghai, for example, licence plates for a new conventionally powered automobile cost almost ten thousand Euros and take a long time to obtain. Electric cars get their licence plates free, right away. So if you want to own and drive a car in a big city, there’s no getting round full or partial electrification – and the relative cost savings go some way towards offsetting the extra outlay for an EV or PHEV.

Diversity of drives and transmissions

But that’s only in major cities. Elsewhere, the Chinese do what everyone does: they opt for less expensive solutions with a conventional or affordable hybrid drive – or an SUV if they can afford it. This means OEMs must tailor electrification levels accordingly and offer everything from 48V through PHEV to pure electric. The diversity of the approaches was reflected in this year’s plenary lectures, as well as in the podium discussion.

Speaking in the plenum, Rongbo Zhang, Geely, pointed out that unlike the rest of the world, China has more EVs than hybrid vehicles. He predicted two million NEVs for 2020 (one million of them pure electric), but said Geely is pursuing a diverse strategy in order to meet China’s fleet consumption requirements. Under CSFC Stage IV, passenger car fleet consumption for 2020 is set at 5.0 litres, which corresponds to 117 g/km of CO2. As part of its ‘Blue Geely Action’, the company strategy includes methanol and natural gas as well as EVs, PHEVs and mild hybrids.

On a global scale, Harald Massmann, ZF, expects that in 2026, 70 percent of the cars on the road will still be conventionally propelled; 24 percent will have hybrid drives, and 6 percent will be pure electric. He believes the number of ICE drives will keep growing until then. Citing the example of ZF’s 8-speed automatic transmission, the speaker reminded listeners that even 48V mild hybrids save 9.5 percent on fuel, while full hybrids save 11.8 percent.

Dr. Yun Jan, Dongfeng, used market forecasts to show that drive diversity – from add-on hybrids and DHTs to pure electric drives – will still be with us in ten years’ time. To master this diversity, Dongfeng plans to build its future hybrid and electric drives around a modular set of eDrive components. The ‘building block’ system includes scalable electric motors, common ECUs and reduction gear units, all of them suitable for both electric drives and serial or parallel hybrids.

According to Haruhisa Nakano, Jatco, traffic speeds fluctuate more in China than in Europe, including in suburbs. He draws two conclusions from this: firstly, CVT lets developers program gear ratios precisely for Chinese scenarios; secondly, CVTs still retain the inherent flexibility that keeps ICEs in the ‘sweet spot’ in these driving situations, particularly in ‘eco’ mode and at low speeds. Nakano says this flexibility in setting ratios also helps in conjunction with 48V hybrids, since ICE-powered operation still dominates there too and CVTs help make drives compact and cost-effective.

E-Fuels – extending horizons

In China too, experts are pondering just how clean electric automobiles are overall, apart from the need for local emissions-free driving in cities. The status quo is something of a dilemma. One horn is the call for local emissions-free mobility; the other is the fact that roughly 65 percent of China’s EV power comes from coal, much more than in other regions. Against that backdrop, the commonly used term NEV (New Energy Vehicle) does not really tell the whole story.

On the same topic, Michael Schöffmann, Audi, presented figures that were both interesting and wide-ranging. Taking the local energy mix into account, Schöffmann’s figures put the converted CO2 emissions of pure electric automobiles in China at 167 g/km. That compares with 122 g/km in the USA, 91 g/km in Germany, and 12 g/km in France due to nuclear energy. However, he also made it clear there is no lack of commitment for renewables in China. In 2016 China was already producing 545 gigawatts of regenerative energy, compared to 215 GW in the USA and 106 GW in Germany. But Schöffmann believes regenerative electricity can also be used to make carbon-neutral E-Fuels – an efficient energy source with a relatively high energy density.

Another fuel fan was Pu Jin, Techrules, who presented the company’s unusual ’Turbine-Recharging Electric Vehicle’ or TREV. Mr Jin argues that while electric motors make ideal drives, the batteries are too heavy, making range extender concepts the better solution. In the TREV, however, what powers the electric generator is not a combustion engine but a fuel-driven, high-speed turbine weighing a hefty 40 kg less. The technology was showcased in an out-and-out sports supercar at the Geneva Motor Show 2017, but Pu Jin sees realistic applications in trucks, passenger cars, two-wheelers and more besides.

China is pushing in-house development

With so much interest in electrified drives, it’s easy to forget that China has also built up considerable potential in the conventional solutions segment. One example is the new 7-speed DCT from Great Wall, presented by Lipeng Zheng. Mr Zheng said Great Wall’s choice of a DCT was logical given the company’s existing experience with manual shift transmissions, and added two further factors: high efficiency, and the convenient package for front-wheel drives. He noted that the two-stage actuator concept (with a mechanical and a variable electric pump) and the ability to divert part of the oil flow for lubrication are state-of-the-art technical solutions. The new 7-speed DCT came out in March 2017 and was developed entirely in-house, despite the long list of global suppliers.

In the podium discussion, Professor Kücükay asked participants to what extent Chinese OEMs and suppliers are now independent of international support. Lipeng Zheng saw good progress at Great Wall in terms of mechanical quality, and also in software. Rongbo Zhang said the goal for Geely was to become a global Top Ten player. In his view, that means working with the best suppliers regardless of their origin, and paying close attention to customer requirements in different parts of the world. Harald Massmann believes that particularly in Simultaneous Engineering, China is still ‘in the starting blocks’. Michael Schöffmann questioned whether it would make sense at all for China to try and develop solutions independently of international partners. “It’s an international business and we use third-party components and services at Audi too. It’s important to be open.”

Between perfection and quick time-to-market

The relatively young category of DHT was also discussed in Shanghai – and with it, another possible dilemma for the automotive industry. As you may recall, Robert Fischer, AVL, put the concept’s break-even point at 100,000 units when DHTs were first presented in 2015. Conversely, that implies that modular add-on solutions would probably take preference for shorter production runs.

China now has several DHT manufacturers, including Geely, which is launching a series-production powersplit DHT in 2018. Otherwise, Rongbo Zhang takes a pragmatic view and says transmissions should be selected according to the application. Lipeng Zheng, Great Wall, says DHTs are a good solution, but their success will also depend on future government decisions. For Mr Zheng, costs and time-to-market are key criteria in a fast-growing market. Hence, ‘quick’ solutions such as P2 or P4 hybrids have the edge when it comes to reducing emissions relatively quickly and cost effectively.

Zheng added another interesting aspect by noting that DHTs require equally dedicated in-car infrastructures. Put bluntly, that means DHTs only become interesting when regulatory pressures are so high that manufacturers are willing to develop a seamless, all-in system that is less scalable than an add-on solution.

What do we take away from Shanghai 2017? In China as elsewhere, the solutions pursued by manufacturers and suppliers are far more diverse than they might sometimes appear. But as Professor Ferit Kücükay points out, ”That does not obscure the fact that China is taking big strides towards e-mobility. Bigger than any other country in the world.”

Gernot Goppelt

Next CTI Symposium China: 18 – 20 September 2018, Shanghai

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