A Primer on Integrated Electric Powertrains
An integrated electric powertrain incorporates electric drivetrain and energy storage systems which are operated seamlessly by an associated software stack (vehicle operating system). It can be licensed to automotive Tier-1 suppliers, can be commercialized as conversion kits, or can be produced in large volumes for vehicle OEMs.
Elements of e-Powertrain can be classified as follows:
• Hardware: Electric motors, motor drives circuit board, battery packs, BMS circuit board, charger circuit board, telematics module.
• Software: Motor controller firmware, BMS firmware, charger firmware, connectivity software stack, and operating software layer.
The operating software integrates all the individual components into an intelligent system which drives the vehicles and delivers the required performance and mileage.
Some of the global players developing EV Powertrains are AC Propulsion (provided the drive train for Tesla Roadster and tzero - Tesla's first electric vehicle), Motiv Power Systems, Lightning Systems, Nordresa, Dana, Meritor, AxleTech, and others. Most of them are developing the technology and they are partnering with large Tier-1 suppliers for production. Some are also being acquired by incumbent Tier-1 automotive suppliers. Companies developing powertrains in India for e-3W and e-LCVs are Altigreen Propulsion Labs, Cell Propulsion, KPIT Technologies, e-Trio, etc. Cell Propulsion is the only start-up developing high voltage, high power powertrains for e-buses and other e-HCVs.
Powertrain research and development is the key to develop better, low-cost EVs. The improvement in performance and operation of powertrains is fundamental to dictate the pace of transition to fully electric mobility. Some of the key areas of research and improvement for EV powertrains for Indian companies can be:
• Development of advanced traction motors - Both magnet and magnet-less motors. A strong local capacity for the development and production of traction motors will create a huge competitive advantage for the Indian automotive industry in international markets.
• Indigenization of high voltage, high power motor drives, inverters, and chargers for reducing and/or controlling the cost of EVs being developed in India.
• Upgradation of motor drives and chargers to use SiC/ GaN-based MOSFETs instead of Si-based IGBTs.
• Setup of local production of Li-ion cells for further optimization of EV prices.
• Development of software and analytics capability to track and manage complete operating life of EV battery packs.
There can be multiple business models for commercializing powertrains for the Indian market. The most important ones are:
• Tier-1 supplier: Sales of customized powertrains to vehicle OEMs for their new EV models.
• Pre-owned vehicles: Conversion kits for fleet owners and operators to convert their existing vehicles to electric. An interesting opportunity today as BS-6 norms will lead to a large-scale scrapping of BS-3 and BS-4 vehicles which will now be an ideal candidate for conversion.
• New vehicle brand: Couple electric powertrain design with development of EV platforms upon which multiple new EV models can be built and launched over the coming years.
• Revitalization: Restoration of classic luxury cars by converting them to electric.
Over the next two-to-five years, we will witness the commercialization of electric powertrains for light, medium, and heavy vehicles as EV technology matures and becomes mainstream. We will also see all these business models being tried out in the Indian market. Electric powertrains will be sold or leased for vehicles in the after-sale market as conversion kits and will also be sold directly to vehicle manufacturers for their new EV models.
We will also witness development and deployment of a "network layer" to provide connectivity to battery packs or powertrains or EVs to enable IoT and OTA update capabilities. The "Connected EV" software stack will not only provide connectivity to vehicles but also enable controlling their driving performance and driving experience. We believe that development of this stack will unlock tremendous value by acting as a platform for providing in-vehicle infotainment and ADAS features to vehicles and finally leading to vehicle autonomy.
At Cell Propulsion, we are focused on achieving a leadership position in developing motor controllers, battery management systems, chargers, operating firmware, vehicle OS, and system engineering for integrating and operating these components as a unified system for connected heavy EVs (e-buses and e-trucks). We hope to play an important part in this transition of Indian mobility to clean, connected, and electric transportation systems.