Electric mobility, e-bikes and more: present and future at Hirschmann Automotive
Alexander Schmid, Product Development Director at Hirschmann Automotive since 2007
- How did you find your way to the automotive industry?
I have had contact with the automotive industry since embarking on my career. After completing my vocational training as an industrial mechanic at an automobile manufacturer, I quickly went on to study mechanical engineering. After completing my studies, I was able to bridge the business gap by completing a postgraduate course in international business relations.
Then I started my career in product development for connectors at one of the leading players in the supply industry. In 2007 I joined Hirschmann Automotive, and I have been in charge of product development ever since.
- Which drive technologies is Hirschmann Automotive investing in?
We are continuously working on expanding our connector technology for installation spaces in vehicles subject to high loads, on axle cabling, on special cable assemblies, on bumper cable sets, and on sensor systems. We are also investing in the development of special products, such as high-pressure contacts for engine cable harnesses in conventional vehicles with combustion engines.
Over 10 years ago, we decided to use our expertise to follow the trend of electric mobility that was taking off at that time, and we were then able to successfully offer our first concept of a high-voltage connector to a premium manufacturer. It has now become a separate department with an extensive product portfolio that needs to be developed further. We supply European, American, and Asian OEMs.
This means that we can supply not only conventional drive technologies but also alternatives such as electromobility or fuel cell technology.
- How do you see the future of the combustion engine?
If you take a look at the current market situation, you can see that the trend towards expanding electric mobility is still going strong or beginning to grow at a disproportionate rate. This is also due to the fact that the general conditions for electric mobility are significantly improving. The possible ranges of electric or hybrid vehicles are continuing to improve, investments in battery research are being ramped up, and the entire charging structure is being developed further. Charging times will be further reduced through faster and higher energy feeds into the vehicles. In addition, there is also the CO2 issue at stake and the associated discussion about global warming.
Current carbon footprint studies, which compare the CO2 consumption of electric cars with that of the combustion engine, still frequently give electric cars an overall poor rating, although it does not emit any CO2 emissions when driving exclusively on electricity. The background for this is the relatively CO2-intensive production of batteries and the question of the electricity mix used to charge electric vehicles.
If, however, comparable vehicle performance and dynamics are taken into account and the electricity mix increasingly moves toward green electricity, then the electric vehicle is in a better position in terms of CO2 emissions.
In spite of this, the combustion engine will still be a legitimate option in the coming years. After all, where long distances have to be traveled and no charging structure is in place yet, the combustion engine will remain relevant. The purchase prices of electric vehicles still remain higher for end consumers than those of vehicles with combustion engines. Even government subsidies or tax cuts must be precisely calculated. And that ultimately makes a difference for many end consumers.
- When it comes to digitalization in the vehicle, what do you see as the challenge?
Digitalization will continue to make its way into cars. Driving assistance systems, radar-based adaptive cruise control systems, voice control, infotainment, etc. are already standard, and they are only one milestone on the way to autonomous or semi-autonomous driving. Vehicle networking will be essential here and must deliver data in real time so that the vehicle control system can react quickly and appropriately. But this is exactly where the problem lies, because any given logic can lead to incorrect vehicle reactions in certain traffic situations and thus cause damage, and in the worst case, personal injury. Liability issues and necessary framework conditions must be clarified by jurisdiction in order to make autonomous driving possible at all.
- Hirschmann has entered the e-bike and pedelec market. How did this come about?
The current growth figures on the e-bike market are impressive. Local dealers in Vorarlberg report that there are currently at least eight e-bikes or pedelecs out of ten bicycles sold. This is also reflected in the sharp rise seen in sales figures in various EU countries. And every e-bike needs a network consisting of a battery, drive motor, control display, sensors, and additional functions, i.e. connectors and small cable sets. And this is exactly where we can make optimum use of our expertise in the automotive industry.
- What do Hirschmann Automotive’s present situation and future look like?
From a product point of view, we are in an excellent position to satisfy the needs of our customers in the various product areas. By acquiring the stamping expertise of the company Beutlhauser based in Freyung, Germany, we are now able to manufacture our own products using stamping and bending technology, thus completing our product portfolio (e.g. with press-in technology).
Our product and process technology spans all drive technologies on the market. The expansion into the e-bike business is also very promising. By stepping up our basic development efforts, we can optimize our products and processes as well as continuously develop completely new systems, such as high-frequency connector systems for applications with high data transmission rates, which will be required in the future for semi-autonomous and fully autonomous driving.