Technology is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. If we go back 30 years, and look at the mainstream introduction of cell phones and home computers, we might have thought those items at the time were futuristic and cool; but for many, those technologies now run their lives whether it be for business or pleasure.
In the auto industry, one of the current primary technological pushes is towards vehicle electrification. Whether it’s in the form of pure electrics, conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells, the push for alternative powertrains is moving quicker than expected. A lot of that rapid movement can be attributed to the future implementation of fuel economy government regulations, but there still is a social responsibility to uphold towards the preservation of the environment.
EV Symposium & Exhibition
For a week in June, the eyes of the world gazed upon Montreal, the host of the 29th edition of the EV Symposium & Exhibition. Montreal wasn’t chosen by accident and was honoured during the event by the World Electric Vehicle Association as an “E-Visionary” in recognition of the work to expand its electric infrastructure. And it’s not just Montreal; the broader province of Quebec has become a great global representation of how to electrify a large community, with over 50 per cent of Canadian EV sales occurring there.
The event has come a long way since its inception 29 years ago. Automakers, government officials and business, big and small all come together to mingle, meet and observe. It’s all about sharing information and research to help inform one another of the latest and greatest EV technologies; a chance to work together to combat various challenges whether it be infrastructure, education or city traffic.
Ford and Nissan: Different approaches, same end goals
To gain an understanding of what’s new on the electrification scene, we spoke to a few of the featured automaker presenters at the EV Symposium: Kevin Layden, Director of Electrification Programs and Engineering at Ford Motor Company and Mr. Yajima Kazuo, Alliance Global Director of EV and HEV Engineering Division at Nissan Motor Company.
When it comes to improving fuel economy, Ford and Nissan have been leading players with boatloads of money being spent on research and development. They share many similar end-goals in the electrification space, such as the reduction of CO2 emissions, as well as educating consumers on the lower total cost of ownership of an electrified car from the initial purchase to its end of life – a payoff time that’s now averaging under three years.
Both companies mildly dabble with alternative powertrains like hydrogen fuel cells, but they don’t see it as a pragmatic solution at this time. Both Ford’s and Nissan’s strategies and future vehicle offerings are mainly aimed at the electrification space; they just differ on the specifics.
For over ten years, Ford has been a big proponent of hybrid technology. The Blue Oval sells more plug-in hybrids than any other in North America, while standing second in hybrid sales. Ford still believes in the ‘Power of Choice’ philosophy – an electrified product that fits each customer segment – which it’s investing $4.5 billion into it. The investment will create vehicles for the whole electric spectrum, but the utility of conventional and plug-in hybrids are seen to be the most relevant for now and will continue to see plenty of growth.
“We cannot take the foot off the pedal for any of these technologies, but we believe that plug-in hybrids have been undersold and undervalued,” adds Layden. “There are features within plug-in hybrid technology that go beyond greater fuel economy numbers…such as less inconvenience [at the pump or charging station], a quieter ride and low end torque that provides a surprising sportiness.”
Mr. Yajima, representing Nissan, talks about providing customer choice, but from a different angle.
“Usually you start with hybrids and than on to pure EVs. But at Nissan, we have taken the opposite approach by first developing the pure electric Leaf, and from it, we’ve been able to use that technology for hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells.”
On ending range anxiety
Regardless of the various paths Ford and Nissan have taken to provide alternative choices to consumers, they both face the fear of extended range in pure electrics that other competitors are promising. Both the Ford Focus electric and Nissan Leaf have improved in range, but nothing close to the 320-plus kilometres touted by the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3.
According to Mr. Yajima, Nissan doesn’t worry too much about this, drawing on the confidence of its EV history.
“We are in a unique position, as Nissan has the capability of producing our own battery that is of high-quality and less expensive than others. Competitor range is a good thing, but we can deliver total performance, range and battery capacity in order to be competitive, as we manufacture the battery.”
Ford also exudes a confidence about delivering more range for its future products.
“Extending our range is within our DNA and is in the cards for us,” said Layden. “I definitely see it happening and it’s just a matter of how we decide to act on it and what those cars are going to look like.”
For the EV revolution to really take shape, costs have to come down to the point when electrics and hybrids are the same price as internal combustion engines. Layden and Yajima don’t know precisely when that will happen, but they both agree that the moment is soon approaching as the brands focus on expanding their electric vehicle profiles.
Expansive future model offerings
As part of the $4.5 billion investment, Ford has confirmed 13 new electrified nameplates on new platforms by 2020. While Nissan confirms that it’s working on an expanded EV lineup with various segments in mind that may contain an autonomous driving setup.
For all this to take place, there needs to be a collaborative effort made far beyond the manufacturers. That’s what makes the EV Symposium & Exhibition so special, as it provides an opportunity for Layden and Yajima to meet with government representatives and small businesses — including those in the influential Chinese market — to learn different innovations and practices for the purpose of working together on a better tomorrow.
It’s clear that costs still need to significantly go down; from the battery to the motor to the electronics. What’s great to see is the cross-industry and cross-government excitement where all parties are ready to spend in order for the electrification movement to go forward with more infrastructure and education.
It all can be summed up in the words of Layden: “It’s safe to say the world is going to change by the end of the decade and we believe it will be absolutely tremendous.”