EV Tech Advancing Faster Than Predicted

Rich Jefferson

Paul Eichenberg is an engineer, automotive technologist, and industry strategist from Detroit. What appears to be implacably bad news to automotive suppliers, looks to him like an opportunity to make a new path to success.

Do you buy, design, or specify castings for your OEM? Unintentionally perhaps, Eichenberg provides reasons for relocating all supply chains closer to your North American assembly plants. Since automotive production took a hit this year, foundries that have traditionally supplied automotive parts face the challenge of competing for other work to fill capacity. 

For those in the business of selecting suppliers, this is an opportunity for you to reshore your casting purchases, as well as to convert complicated welded parts to an elegant one-piece casting. A near-perfect example of a conversion can be seen in the May/June 2019 edition of Casting Source, at www.castingsource.com. AFS Corporate Member Neenah Foundry converted an 11-piece weldment into a single ductile iron casting. For good reason Neenah won the Casting of the Year award. 

Eichenberg is helping forward-looking foundries plan to work with you on your casting needs. He feels time is short for suppliers who sell parts into a market for internal combustion engines and drive trains. Along with current international supply chain disruption, coming vehicle electrification should tell you it’s time to find foundries close to home to fill your orders. 

“If I have a choice to help five companies who say, ‘Help me help myself with this inevitable disruption’ and 500 who are unconvinced of inevitability of vehicle electrification, I’m going to help the five,” Eichenberg said. 

The 2020 annual AFS Forecast & Trends covered the pending switch from internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles to electric vehicles (EVs). A version of the article also appeared in the February edition of Modern Casting. Charging infrastructure for EVs and their batteries seemed like it would be an issue for years to come. That prognostication was incorrect. 

Eichenberg points out private companies pursuing market share are constructing the necessary charging infrastructure. Charging times are plummeting, led by Tesla technology, and the laws of exponential technology growth in battery technology have suddenly taken us where no one thought we would go, at least this fast.

Less than a year ago, experts estimated manufacturers could count on generating a kilowatt hour from a battery by 2030 at the cell level for $100. Don’t look now, but that technology is here. According to a story published by Reuters in May, “The new ‘million mile’ battery at the center of Tesla’s strategy was jointly developed with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) (300750.SZ) …”

Amperex Technology produces battery packs generating power “below $80 per kilowatt-hour, with the cost of the battery cells dropping below $60 per kilowatt-hour,” according to the article. To make sure we understand the force of this information, Reuters reports “Auto industry executives have said $100/kWh for battery packs is the level at which electric vehicles reach rough parity with internal combustion competitors.”

“I fell out of my chair when I read that,” Eichenberg said. 

Sudden advances in battery technology are only one area of EV development undergoing surprising advance at a furious pace. Three years ago, experts thought they were making an optimistic forecast when they said an EV motor, gearbox and inverter would cost $1,800 in 2030. It’s already dropped to $1,000, Eichenberg said. We already knew there would be fierce competition among metal processes as a result of EVs. Eichenberg foresees industrywide troubles, with an 80-90% reduction in forgings and a 60-70% loss of castings in the auto industry.

Another way to put this for metalcasters is the average 6-cylinder internal combustion engine vehicle has $650 castings but an EV has less than $200 of castings. As companies define their future in this context, it will not only be metal processes competing against metal processes. With a 30% projected reduction in resins and plastics necessary to build an electric car, “plastics will attack the market for metal castings as well,” Eichenberg says. This includes gas tanks, fuel lines, fluid reservoirs, hoses, intake manifolds “and they have not yet started to look at the thermal management” mechanisms.

By 2030, at least one out of four cars around the world will be an EV. If we’ve learned anything from using 2030 as a target date, it’s to mistrust it. Technology can push arrival times with greater dispatch than we first predicted. 

Eichenberg believes in U.S. manufacturing, and he wants to help companies who want help through the incredible technological disruption we happen to find ourselves in. He advocates for looking ahead and making plans to cope with the unavoidable march of technology. As a designer, buyer, or specifier, you want to focus on the future and where the trends are headed. 

The right foundries that help you avoid shipping from overseas can help. It’s time to upgrade you supply chain and to determine what parts should be converted to castings. The Casting Source Directory can point you I the right direction. 

On a final note, lest I be accused of being a turncoat to metalcasters, I drive a hybrid. My choice of personal transportation harms no foundry or metalcaster.    CS

Click here to see this story as it appears in the July/August 2020 issue of Casting Source.