My first trip to the CTI Symposium USA six years ago was eye-opening regarding the ambitious forecasts for electrification in the automotive industry. Hybrid transmissions took center stage back then with a hint at a fully electric future on the horizon. Individual components were showcased in the expo hall as well as the technology sessions. Optimism for self-driving vehicles, e-mobility and the switch from ICE to electric vehicles was somewhat restrained.
Today, the future of EV and HEV drives and components looks much more attainable. Individual components are now being replaced by systems being coordinated by software in a new digital microcosm. GM is committed to an all-electric future. So is Ford, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Toyota and any other automotive company that wishes to remain relevant in 20 years. The latest CTI Symposium confirmed this electric journey.
According to Dr. Hamid Vahabzadeh, chairman, CTI Symposium USA and strategy advisor, AVL GmbH, the CTI Advisory Board has been focusing on the leading-edge technologies and providing a forum for the industry to debate and discuss the latest technologies needed for the next generation of vehicles.
CTI started about 20 years ago as a transmission and driveline technology symposium. Initially, the focus was on conventional automatics and manual transmissions. Over the years, this coverage expanded to DCTs, CVTs, and a wide variety of advanced and novel transmission concepts. Most recently, as the industry began the pivot to electrification, he said the industry shifted focus to hybrids and covered a wide range of hybrid concepts including modular (add-on) hybrids as well as dedicated hybrids.
“Now we see a clear transition to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) for light duty and passenger car applications and potentially fuel cell technologies for medium and heavy-duty applications. Therefore, our ambition is to stay on top of the trends, and focus our content, papers, speakers to capture the industry challenges in this area and invite speakers that are working on advanced BEV systems and sub-system technologies including; new batteries, e-motors, e-axles, power electronics and grid integration. Facilitating the debates via panel discussions to prep the engineering community on how quickly changes are coming,” Vahabzadeh said.
An Electric Mindset
The EV market has been growing steadily over the last few years. The legislation and scale of EV is real now. This was not always the case.
“Five to 10 years ago, the feeling wasn’t as certain, but now it is inevitable. The unknown is how quickly supply chains can be enabled to support the full pivot to BEV. Many OEMs have announced their plans to convert their products to pure electric drives. The timing may not be as fast as everyone states. It may take a bit longer to make it a reality based on the need to mine the critical materials and then put the capital in the ground to process the minerals that are needed for all these batteries,” Vahabzadeh said.
The automotive industry has faced several challenges and very tough regulations in the past. They have shown to be very resilient and creative in meeting new regulations by developing and implementing new technologies, managing their fleet mix, and purchasing or trading credits with other OEMs, and occasionally, paying penalties. The 2030 regulatory targets are not any different. While they are very challenging, Vahabzadeh said will be met one way or another.
When it comes to BEVs, Vahabzadeh said consumers are mainly concerned about their total ownership cost and practicality of their selection. There has been a significant effort and development aimed at improving the energy density and cost of batteries resulting in a noticeable reduction in the total cost of the battery packs, and consequently, the electric vehicle prices. “This has also improved the operating range for the BEV which is another major concern for the average consumer. However, these improvements are not sufficient and need to continue on the same path to make the BEV affordability a reality for the average consumer. Another big factor is the infrastructure and availability of fast charging stations to ease the range anxiety that some consumers may have.”
There’s enough information out there regarding our global path toward electrification that consumers are a lot more educated and smarter these days. Vahabzadeh said that the green aspect of these vehicle has played a major role in considering an electric vehicle.
“They are fantastic to drive. As consumers get into them, they will love them. They like the vehicle performance and smoothness. The ride and handling of BEVs are impressive. This is due to their low center of gravity and people have noticed this and like it very much. But I am not sure everyone loves the price today,” he added.
The Evolution of CTI Symposium
CTI Symposium has been taking place for two decades. What started as a transmission conference, turned into a hybrid drivetrain forum, and has transformed into an electric drivetrain conference. It’s an opportunity for attendees to recognize trends and strategy changes early, paying close attention to technological developments and regulatory influences. Thus, CTI was and is always addressing the most relevant questions, delivering viable solutions and proposals for future mobility options. The intensive cooperation with the advisory boards in each region provides the latest information for the entire automotive community.
The programs are a mixture of topics which are relevant for each region and meeting regional specific questions. The markets and regulations are not developing 100 percent parallel in terms of surrounding conditions, political framework and customer choice. The CTI events share viewpoints, findings and strategies and address local questions. For example, BEV systems are currently the focus here in the United States whereas CTI Symposium-Germany is looking at fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
“With our events we want to connect the biggest automotive markets and regions where the engineering work happens. Regions and markets have their commonalities but also differences in terms of regulations, government incentives, political surrounding conditions, customer expectations, vehicle usage, etc. To support the exchange of opinions, viewpoints, strategies and engineering developments, CTI has created a ‘World Series’ bringing companies and experts from all over the world together within each region,” Vahabzadeh said.
This year’s U.S. Symposium offered new concepts and technologies being developed by different companies to enhance the current state-of-the-art of the BEV. Executives in charge of the leading OEMs and suppliers discussed their strategies for meeting the consumer expectations in cost, quality and performance while trying to meet strict regulations. Vahabzadeh enjoyed hearing how the different companies feel about the pivot to BEV. Will it happen as quickly as their stated goals or will we continue to see an overlap of traditional drivetrains, hybrids, and BEVs for a protracted period of time?
Questions Moving Forward
The future of EV markets in each region are mainly driven by the legislations, government incentives, and regulations. China and Europe are leading in implementing BEVs with US market following. While the China market is converting to BEV, it is also entertaining the plug-in hybrid option.
Vahabzadeh does not foresee a significant change of topics in the near future. Electrification will continue to be the focus for upcoming programs.
“As more and more BEVs enter the market, sufficient electric power generation and efficient distribution infrastructure will be more prevalent. New battery technologies and more efficient e-motor technologies will be discussed,” Vahabzadeh said. “Vehicle affordability for the average consumer and new business models and purchasing/leasing options will be discussed. Continued supply chain constraints, and raw materials availability will be of concern. How will OEMs evolve and vertically integrate with BEVs? Will they continue to outsource areas, or bring those in house and consider them core to their experience?”
Sidebar: Topics at CTI Symposium USA 2022