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Following the EV Leaders

By Dawson Bell

Epic. Generational. Transformative. Not the kind of words temperate-minded engineers, technicians and business leaders traffic in lightly. Except lately, when they talk about the not-so-distant future of automotive technology, and the rapid, revolutionary transition to electric powertrains. Buoyed by eye-popping projections for growth and billions in investment, the future of electric transportation is happening now. Look at what some of the region’s standouts in electrification are working on.

Michael Bly
Vice President, Business Development and Electrification, American Axle & Manufacturing

​​American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) has a century-long history as a producer of drivetrains. For most of it, they were powered by internal combustion engines. Times are changing. Bly has been working on EVs for 10 years, including on the team that launched General Motors’ Chevrolet Volt. “There have been lots of starts and stops,” Bly said. “But in the last three years we’ve seen market acceptance…and progress is measurable.”

In some regions, government incentives are driving explosive growth, he said. AAM provides the propulsion system for an AWD EV being produced in Poland, and a plug-in hybrid for another European automaker set to be introduced in 2020, Bly said. “We see (EVs) as not a niche, but a conversion point. We’re invested,” he said.

Ted Cannis
Global Director, Electrification, Ford Motor Company

The iconic automaker is “all in” on EVs, Cannis said. Consider some of the numbers: Ford investment in electrics through 2022, $11 billion; 40 EV models, 18 of them all-electric by 2022; a Mustang-inspired electric SUV with a 300-mile range in 2020; $740 million electro-centric re-development in Detroit’s Corktown, including the reclamation of the historic Michigan Central Station. A lot of factors are at work in the rapid expansion of electrification, Cannis said.

Fuel efficiency, climate change, economics, charging options, consumer confidence all point to more EVs. “Our goal is to make great ones…with power, speed, handling and passenger space,” he said.

Vince Carioti
Director, E-Mobility North America, Phoenix Contact

“I’m a firm believer that we’re going to get to full electrification (of vehicles worldwide),” said Carioti. “It is accelerating now, with (Tesla’s) Elon Musk pulling the market in that direction…China’s commitment. There is buy-in from the top at all the OEMs.”

Phoenix Contact E-Mobility is already a major supplier of charging inlets for EVs across North America, Europe and China. It is also heavily involved in developing and deploying technology for EV charging stations, with plans for high-power (500-amp/1,000-volt) superchargers —aimed at reducing range anxiety among EV drivers — to be released in 2019. “We need to build out the infrastructure,” Carioti said, “but there’s plenty of enthusiasm out there. It’s going to happen.”

Mary Gustanski
Chief Technology Officer, Delphi Technologies

​​The automotive industry is at an inflection point, Gustanski said. According to Delphi’s forecasts, by 2030 as many as half of all vehicles manufactured globally will be powered, at least in part, by electricity. Gustanski says Delphi is “an agnostic” about the eventual configuration.

“We don’t care. We do propulsion; as long as they need to move, they need Delphi,” she said. Among the company’s EV-related products are inverters (which convert DC battery power into AC for propulsion) and software engineering for controllers (which allow an EV to run like a vehicle instead of a light switch). Although a relatively small share of overall revenue today, Gustanski said Delphi has added more than $5 billion in lifetime revenue to its books just since 2011.

Heather Klish
Vice President, Operations, AxleTech

AxleTech provides drivetrains for brawny vehicles — buses, heavy-duty trucks, military, etc. “Heavy duty stuff that lasts forever,” Klish said. For the last century, that “stuff” was mostly mechanical. Not anymore, Klish said. The growth in demand for electrified drivetrains is off the charts.

“We have a new customer coming in the door every month,” she said. If anything, the market for electric in commercial, off-road and heavy-duty production may be more explosive than for passenger vehicles, Klish said. “The skeptics are no longer asking whether it will happen or not, but ‘how quickly will it ramp up?’ (EVs) could be half of our revenue by 2020 or 2022.”

Lisa Stevenson
Senior Vice President, Research and Development and Operations, XALT Energy

Some of the strongest demand for EVs comes from the operators of big vehicles in big cities, i.e., urban transit and school systems. Hundreds of their buses around the United States and Canada run on lithium ion batteries developed by XALT Energy, said Stevenson. The incentives for more — fuel costs, emissions, public policy — are growing rapidly, she said.

“They want to electrify,” Stevenson said. And XALT is “perfectly poised” to capitalize on that emerging market. The company also produces batteries for maritime use, electric grid storage and management systems, and in 2018 entered a four-year U.S. Department of Energy contract (in partnership with Ford Motor Company, General Motors and FCA) to develop breakthrough 12-volt battery technology for EVs.

Qiong Sun
Vice President, Electrification, Lear Corp.

A 101-year-old Fortune 500 company with 165,000 global employees and $20.5 billion in sales does a lot of different things. But in 2018, “meeting (vehicle manufacturers’) increasing demand for high-power electrical and electronic products…has been a major part of Lear’s strategy for growth,” said Sun.

Lear is a major provider for vehicle charging, power conversion, battery management systems and high-power electric distribution for EVs. One of the company’s current efforts is the development of “revolutionary technology that provides drivers with worry-free, hands-free charging…by simply parking over a charge pad,” Sun said. A recently-created electrification business unit within Lear will “accelerate the speed of product development and business growth.”