cars21.com: Which type of electrified vehicles will show the highest growth figures?
Frank Wolf: The hybrid vehicles will be the dominant market driver and especially the plug-in hybrids will outpace all other segments due to their versatility and their energy-efficiency.
Look at the Toyota Hybrid line-up now ranging from the small car Yaris Hybrid to the electrified all-wheel drive-trains of Lexus – not to mention the growing Prius family and the new Auris.
cars21.com: What else is happening in the industry?
Frank Wolf: It is interesting to watch the most recent steps of the Europeans in the growing market for the electrified vehicles. It is huge variety of hybrid vehicles, being launched here. To mention just a few: Audi tries to outperform everyone else with 200+bhp A3 e-tron. A premium technology approach combining a turbo-charged gasoline engine with an e-drive integrated double-clutch transmission. Great ingredients garnished with top driving performance, but unfortunately it comes with a heavy sticker price. Same applies to the VW XL1 – engineering at its best but unfortunately not designed for the mass market.
cars21.com: Are we witnessing here a typical German premium approach to the market?
Frank Wolf: Indeed. It is exactly the way how the German OEM tend to bring a technology to the markets. Start in the upper market segments with the performance or luxury cars and later – after unit costs have come down – move to the mid market segments. It is a technology diffusion pattern that was often labelled as the “democratization of luxury”. E.g. this approach has been successful with regard to the adaption of ABS and ESP.
cars21.com: Will this strategy work as well with hybrid or plug-in hybrid technology?
Frank Wolf: Here I do have my concerns, as the current situation is very different. The hybrid power-train technology has already succeeded in the mass market segments – think of all Californian counties where the Prius is the best-selling vehicle. Today the European OEM are nor the market leader neither the technology leader in the hybrid arena. To successfully compete with Japanese manufacturers the European OEM need quick access to cost-competitive hybrid components.
cars21.com: What components are of critical importance?
Frank Wolf: For all OEM the battery and its controller – the battery management system – are of key importance to reduce the unit costs of the power-train and to improve its reliability and its life-cycle costs.
cars21.com: What cost-savings are available when they switch to one of the Obrist-designed battery management systems?
Frank Wolf: We have developed an integrated battery design and an adapted lean assembly process that brings manufacturing costs down to €300 per kWh – for a lithium-ion battery pack suitable for hybrids featuring a battery management system that includes an integrated thermo-management and insulation to improve reliability and lifetime. With increasing volumes this number will further drop to €150/kWh in the future.
cars21.com: Another key topic of this year’s motor-show is lightweight construction. What can be done in terms of the lightweight design of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV)?
Frank Wolf: A PHEV with a pure-electric range of some 50 km requires a battery pack with some 8 kWh capacity, which will add some 70-100 kg to the total vehicle weight. To compensate for this unwanted extra-weight we all focus our efforts on the downsizing of the combustion engine and the transmission. At Obrist we have developed a 40kW high-efficiency gasoline engine (HICE) with an integrated generator unit with a weight of just c.76kg. Our power-train is combined with a compact e-drive unit so that in total we can match the weight of a Diesel power-train including transmission. The savings of the power-train weight help to compensate for the extra-weight of the battery pack. In total we are able to offer a complete solution with no or just a little extra-weight at all.
cars21.com: Is it the diesel engine that suffers most from the success of the hybrid power-train?
Frank Wolf: In Europe definitely. Due to their high costs Diesel hybrids will play a niche role. Furthermore the economy of a Diesel engine can be easily matched by advanced hybrid power-trains.
cars21.com: Really? What is the fuel economy of the downsized Obrist 2-cylinder gasoline engine compared to that of a leading Diesel engine?
Frank Wolf: Our HICE has a maximum efficiency of 41% and operates at this ideal point for most of the time. Since we avoid partial load operation, the combustion engine always operates above 30% efficiency never dropping to the low levels of the established gasoline or Diesel engines. Under partial load conditions the efficiency of an established power-train solution might drop to lows of c.8% . Average efficiencies of 14% for gasoline engines and 19% for Diesel engines are significantly below our benchmark.
cars21.com: Listening to you, the way forward is quite obvious. More hybrids less Diesel. More plug-in hybrids with less expensive batteries. More hybrids in all segments. Finally looking to the performance cars of Lexus, BMW-i and Porsche are the AWD-hybrids on the rise as well?
Frank Wolf: Exactly – next to the plug-in the AWD-hybrid technology accelerates. Beyond today’s high performance sports car applications we will have in some years from now a number of affordable full-electrified AWD-hybrids on the market. E.g. a full-electrified AWD based on a series hybrid design with four independent electric drives for each wheel. These vehicles will feature all-wheel torque-vectoring like the World Rally cars combined with the economy of a PHEV of some 30-50g CO2 per km.
cars21.com: The dream of any Swiss car-owner?
Frank Wolf: Definitely, but this dream will not be limited to Switzerland. We are all working hard to make this dream come true globally.