There’s more to it than just a battery and motor
New vehicles mean new problems and new opportunities
Moving to electric vehicles means big changes for automakers, but that’s not just in powertrains and batteries. From tires to taillights, the move to electric requires new thinking and new component designs so that the cars can make best use of their electrons. A new report talks about their efforts to reinvent the wheel, the brakes, and even the mirrors.
The report from the New York Times comes shortly after an announcement from GM to pursue all-electric by 2035, and well after a Volvo goal of doing the same. Each automaker to make the commitment puts more pressure on the rest to do the same, and that affects everyone from engineers to miners, suppliers, and dealers.
“When manufacturers come to build a dedicated electric vehicle, there’s a lot of things to change,” said Ian Coke, chief technical officer in the United States for Pirelli Tire told the Times. “But first, you’ve got to make the distinction between vehicles that are being electrified — installing an electric powertrain into an existing platform — and electric vehicles.” For the latter, he said, “there’s a lot of carry-over components that aren’t ideal.”
Oversized components are an enemy, meaning there is more to accelerate and keep at speed, but the battery and motor themselves are heavier than a gas car, making work tough for automakers. The cars are also more silent, so noise from the engine no longer hides mirror wind noise, brake noise, tire noise, and countless other small sources that can add up. EV builders are using composers, including BMW’s use of Hans Zimmer, to design new soundtracks for the electric models.
Coke tells the Times that EVs require low rolling resistance compounds to reduce consumption, but then have massive torque that can then spin and wear those tires out more quickly, a delicate tightrope for engineers to walk.
Lastly, the changes to automotive services once the oil change is a thing of the past. EVs still need some service, but it’s definitely less. “You’re going to see a shift in types of services from those shops,” Jeffrey Cox, president of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association in Chicago told the Times. “But we’ve already seen changes: We’ve seen oil change intervals go up. So I don’t see E.V.s as the death of the aftermarket. The biggest challenge is the recruitment of technicians with specific skill sets.”