Automotive: On the Road to Disruptive Technology

Automotive: On the Road to Disruptive Technology

The future of the automotive industry looks complicated. Urbanization, energy regulations, the electrification of vehicles, autonomous driving and the evolution of transmission and propulsion systems will probably keep forecasters and analysts up at night. How all of these technologies will pan out in the next 20 to 30 years was some of the topics discussed during CTI Automotive Week USA in Novi, Michigan that ran from May 14-17. Here are some takeaways from the event:

The Relevance of the Internal Combustion Engine

While vehicle electrification continues to gain traction—creating both new competitors and new technology in automotive applications—the fact remains that gas will remain the dominant source of fuel thru 2050, according to the latest EIA Annual Energy Outlook report.

What will change in the coming years is an increasing emphasis on electrification, digitalization and autonomous advancements. This means that new technologies are developing and gaining traction, but the ICE will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

Traditional areas in the automotive industry are being disrupted, according to Dan Nicholson, vice president, Global Propulsion Systems at General Motors.  Nicholson believes that urbanization, electrification and improved internal combustion engines will be part of this disruption.

Battery Technology is Still Evolving

R&D is going to play a significant role in the timetable for vehicle electrification. Everything from materials to recycling opportunities and price points are currently being reviewed in this area.

Denise Gray, president and CEO at LG Chem Power Inc., USA discussed the challenges facing battery manufacturers for automotive applications. This includes the optimal range for battery life, vehicle price, fast charging capabilities, cost reduction, recycling options and power improvements.

Recycling lithium batteries will play a huge role in future considerations. Gray believes a combination of industry and academia from both the United States and Europe will need to manage and assess how to best provide solutions in this area.

Different automotive customers have different battery requirements, according to Gray. EVs are poised for strong growth in the automotive industry, but the battery will dictate how this market plans to evolve in the future.

A panel discussion “How will future mobility change propulsion and transmission systems?” took place on Wednesday May 16th. 

It’s Time to Capitalize on New Technology and Transportation Solutions

Pollution, climate change and congestion are global issues. Large urban environments will need to look at every mobility concept to come up with the appropriate solution.

Dr. V. Anand Sankaran, director, Electrified Powertrain Engineering, Ford Motor Company, said that the time is now to capitalize on these electric vehicle technologies for the future. He cited near taxi convenience at mass transit prices as an example of what needs to be done.

Software, battery technology and smart mobility will help push the industry toward innovation.  And everything is in play including BEVs,  (battery electric vehicles), plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, and more. Can all of these different technologies coexist in the future?

Prof. Dr Uwe Dieter Grebe, executive vice president, global business development, sales and international operations at AVL List GmbH, thinks they can. Grebe discussed that transmission technology is transitioning toward electrification and the reduction of the number of gears, but the future will still be a co-existence of all transmission types including conventional, hybrid and e-Drive units.

And there will be an emphasis on mobility strategies that provide new opportunities for optimizing drivetrain operation. This will result in a reduction of fuel consumption and improved ride comfort.

Future Mobility: Trends & Considerations

Jeremy Carlson, principal analyst at IHS Markit, discussed some of the trends regarding future mobility during the symposium. He cited the growing complexity in vehicle systems and engineering as well as the acceleration of sensor content and software capabilities—great news for the PTE audience.

Carlson said that connected cars would bring significant value to users and new opportunities for automakers, dealerships and fleet managers. This means additional vehicle data and predictive maintenance features for automakers and live services, connected infotainment and virtual personal assistants for consumers.

How will the transmission and other vehicle control systems evolve during this new technology push? Connected data, updatable software, new user-selectable ride settings and reliable and serviceable transportation options are just a few of the areas that will be transformed.

The Most Important Component

I would be remiss to discuss a weeklong educational show on automotive transmissions and mobility without discussing the most important component that ties all of these technologies together.

Professor Dr. Giorgio Rizzoni, director, Center of Automotive Research at The Ohio State University, began a panel discussion on transmission systems by saying “We make people.”

Moderator Larry Nitz, executive director, global transmissions and electrification, General Motors, wanted to see how many people in the audience were currently hiring engineering graduates. Most of the room seemed eager to get new talent into their organizations.

So, it’s the hybrid engineering student, one with mechanical, electrical, software and energy experience that might be the most important piece to the future of transmission technology. In fact, Rizzoni has recently seen a 25-percent increase in engineering enrollment at The Ohio State University.

You can’t disrupt technology without the right people in place with the necessary skills to change the conversation.

Autonomous or Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems?

Assisted-driving is growing rapidly and can be characterized by technologies such as lane keeping, automatic emergency braking, and radar cruise control. These are features available today that work and will continue to advance as the technology gets better.

To produce a fully-autonomous vehicle, you’re taking the driver out of the equation completely. This is a gray area with many, many questions left to answer.  Are we really that comfortable letting a system operate a vehicle on the road without any feedback besides entering the destination into a computer?

I spoke with some software engineers (that will remain nameless) that approach this topic with a great deal of skepticism. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems? Absolutely. They can help the driver navigate through various scenarios on the highway, but full autonomy is more challenging.

Ask anyone that has attempted to use GPS in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example. The city, known for its fair share of bridges and tunnels, is a mecca of failed computer navigation requests and failed driving directions. One engineer said “If they can’t get Google Maps to work in Pittsburgh, I’m not sure how they’re going to get me in a robotic-controlled taxi cab someday.”

Whatever label it gets: Conditional automation, high automation or full automation, safety and compliance is going to decide how far this technology will really go and if humans will ever be comfortable enough to come along for the ride.

The Research Continues

Electrification, automation and digitalization were the three biggest topics discussed during the week. How these future “smartphones on wheels” adapt to the changing demands of the transportation industry remains to be seen. It’s far too early in the game to know exactly where the automotive industry is going and which technology will ultimately get us there.

For a full recap of CTI Automotive Week 2018, visit

Categories: Editors Choice

About Author

Matthew Jaster

Matthew Jaster, Senior Editor, has a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago and has 15+ years of writing and editing experience in automotive, manufacturing, engineering, law and arts and entertainment.

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