It was 134 years ago this month when a patent for the world’s first gas-powered automobile was issued to Carl Benz after he walked into the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin, Germany, on Jan. 29, 1886.
Even though Benz, and several other early automotive inventors, picked the right powertrain solution from many options at the time – one that has proven to be very effective for more than a century – it still took decades before internal combustion engine (ICE), gas-powered cars were widely adopted in the U.S. and other countries.
There is a similar transition happening today, from ICE-driven vehicles to electrified propulsion systems for cars and trucks. There may be skepticism, even frustration, that the move to hybrids and battery electric vehicles hasn’t happened faster or reached higher volumes since the modern-day electrification movement began in the 1990s.
But the pace does not surprise me, and I am optimistic the next 10 to 15 years will bring greater availability and acceptance of electrified vehicles.
Why? Because I see many important signs and key technology enablers.
Despite still being a small percentage of overall vehicle sales, automakers and suppliers, driven by government regulations and consumer demand, continue to invest heavily in batteries, motors, integrated power modules and other hybrid and electric vehicle technologies. Plants dedicated to producing electric vehicles are being built, iconic brands are being revived or expanded to offer electrified offerings and financial commitments of tens of billions of dollars have been announced. These are not signs of uncertainty; they are signs of confidence in propriety technologies, a supply chain that is ready and in-depth consumer research indicating growing and permanent demand.
Our product portfolio is propulsion-agnostic with solutions for all types of powertrains. However, with electrification on the rise, we’re adjusting the focus of our E-Systems’ division to better align our people and financial resources with core competencies that will accelerate the development of enabling technologies while driving deeper integration with our Seating division.
This isn’t just about winning new business, it’s about doing the right thing for the environment, attracting and retaining aspiring talent who want to work on cutting-edge products, and feeding our drive to develop innovations that will quicken the widespread adoption of EVs and improve the in-vehicle experience for consumers.
For example, while battery companies are tweaking cell design and chemistries, we’re improving integrated power modules and battery management systems to more efficiently package components and manage power – further boosting range and shortening charge times, eroding the advantages offered by internal combustion engines for longer road trips and quicker stops to fuel up.
Without a need for engines, transmissions and other components, electric vehicles can be designed around people instead of machinery, opening doors to radical redesigns of the passenger cabin. Lear’s ConfigurE+ seating system, which begins production this year, requires a flat-load floor often seen in electrified vehicles. The technology offers second- and third-row seats that are heated or cooled, offer power recline capability and charging ports for devices as well as fully reconfigurable options to turn or remove seats.
Just as ICEs ushered in a new era of personal transportation, EVs are doing the same. The debate over the speed at which that happens will likely continue during virtual panels and programs at CES this week. We will do our part to support a faster transition by staying laser-focused on customizing product solutions to help OEMs achieve faster charging times and longer ranges for vehicles.