The car as we know it is an obsolescent model. All automotive engineers know this, because their entire work gyrates about re-inventing it everyday. At the recent Euroforum conference on Automotive electronics in Munich, it once again became clear which factors drive the development, and attendees got an idea of how individual mobility in the future will look like.
The point is that not only the vehicle itself is subject to technical progress but also the business model of the carmakers. The existing business model of building cars and selling them to users, typically private persons who own them and sometimes use them, is challenged by new user habits. And since a change in the business model also greatly affects the way cars are built, this is also a topic for design engineers.
Connectivity is key to understanding the future role of cars, said Simon Euringer who oversees the Connected Drive activities at carmaker BMW, at the event. Cars no longer will be just connected but instead they will be embedded in an information environment, Euringer predicted. Today, one million BMW cars are using the Connected Drive feature, and this figure is rapidly growing. A standard feature in today's connected cars is the availability of apps much like they are available for smartphones and tablet computers. Particularly successful for BMW are apps that connect the driver to information services on the phone - of course in the driver's language. Other killer apps are teleservices which connect driver and garages, real-time traffic information and the HTML5-based BMW Online service, which transparently brings online information to the vehicle's centre display.
These connectivity features highly personalize the way the vehicle appears to its driver. BMW - like other manufacturers - is working on technologies to make these personal usage profiles and personality features portable: This will enable car users to bring along their personal information preferences and user profiles along when they happen to use another car or even a rental vehicle. Apps will increasingly contribute to the driving experience. "A smartphone without an app is pointless", Euringer compared the car with today's most popular information gadget. For him, even apps for intermodal routing are conceivable - apps that, according to traffic situation and availability, even might recommend using public transportation instead of the car. All these functions and features comprise as a whole the individual mobility experience. "We invest much effort in thinking about how we can separate functions and personal profiles from the car", Euringer explained. "Our goal is to sell to our customers personal mobility, not just vehicles."
The presentation of Volkmar Tanneberger, director of electronics architecture for Volkswagen, was more hardware-oriented, though he also admitted that connectivity is a competitive factor in the automotive market. "Currently we see two major drivers for vehicle development", Tanneberger said. "These are electromobility and connectivity".
Tanneberger also explained why, from his point of view, it is necessary to integrate connectivity into the vehicle instead of to just bringing connectivity into the car by means of a smartphone. "You cannot do everything on a smartphone. The Human-machine interface has to prevent driver distraction - and smartphone HMIs are not optimized for use behind the wheel". For this reason, VW advocates a non-proprietary, manufacturer-spanning certification process for apps HMIs.
Tanneberger also highlighted the significance of the new mobile communication standard LTE for the idea of the connected car. "LTE enables the internet, to run automotive apps in the vehicles", he said. "We believe that LTE will rather fast displace earlier mobile technologies".
At a more technical level, he addressed Volkswagen's plans for electric mobility. As an important building block, the company has decided to develop a module kit for high-voltage components - a standardized set of specific components to be used across the entire VW group. Similar "kits" are already in place in the infotainment and the powertrain domains.
The HV kit will support a range of electric powertrain concepts including battery electric and hybrid approaches. It will embrace a battery cell module, a battery junction box, a modular battery management controller and several other components.
In terms of battery technology, Tanneberger presented a roadmap which predicted an increase in energy density by the factor of 5 through the year 2035. Major milestones are C-Si and HE-NMC batteries by 2018, Si-sulphur by 2020, metal-lithium-sulphur batteries by 2025 and lithium-oxygen batteries by 2035. Notably absent was the option of hydrogen fuel cells, something VWs competitors currently are investigating carefully.
Also BWM is working on electric vehicles, and the development seems to be in a quite advanced stadium. The BMW i3, as the company's first full-electric car in serial production, will be available later this year. It will be equipped with a number of connectivity features and apps that support the mobility experience - for example an app that computes and predicts the remaining driving range for the battery. This app will collect lots of outside information - about upslope roads, traffic stalls, availability of charging stations and many more. These informations will be provided by an IT backend. "Without this backend, the i3 won't offer the same driving experience", Euringer said.