By Sharad P Matade| Jun 22, 2021

AVL To Accelerate The Vision Of Smart And Connected Mobility: Urs Gerspach

AVL is the world’s largest independent company for development, simulation and testing in the automotive industry and in other sectors. As a global technology leader, AVL provides concepts, solutions and methodologies in the fields of e-mobility ADAS and autonomous driving, vehicle integration, digitalisation, virtualisation, big data and much more.

In an interview with Sharad P Matade, Urs Gerspach, Executive Vice President of Test Systems and Global Operations, Instrumentation and Test Systems at AVL, shares his thoughts on the growth enablers and the company’s capabilities to cater to a wide range of demand in the automotive testing business.

What is the impact of the Covid pandemic on AVL’s testing business?

There is an impact, no doubt about it. The effect was much stronger last year; the customers constantly postponed their decisions about the orders of lab projects. However, this year, we are seeing a sudden improvement in the situation. In the first quarter of this year, we received massive orders of over 180 test systems for battery test labs. The situation is improving very fast, and the investments are being released by the OEMs. Until last year, the trends were not clear. Now we see a fast and strong growth of the passenger car industry towards electrification business. We are also witnessing the growing focus on fuel cells in the commercial truck segment. AVL is very well on track regarding its turnover and our margins for this year.

What is the reason for the increased demand of battery test labs?

In the past, many OEMs bought their battery cells from cell manufacturers like Panasonic, LG, CATL etc. and used these third party cells to build their own batteries. Several passenger car OEMs changed their strategy and decided to develop their own battery cells. Increased range, reduced charging time and lower costs are important key factors to convince customers to buy electric cars. Not just the development of the battery, but the combination of Battery, Inverter, E-Motor and Charging Infrastructure is important to develop a successful electric car. For this development, you need new test equipment such as battery cell cyclers, conditioning systems, climate chambers, automation and lab management software. The entire car is tested on High Voltage Powertrain Test Beds and Chassis Dynos where AVL has been the market leader for many years.

Europe is gearing up for Euro-7. What is it? How will it influence the testing business?

EU-7 will set stricter limits for CO2 and particle emissions. We expect PM10 (particulate matter with a size of 10 μm) will be introduced for Euro-7 and we have therefore developed measurement systems which can measure PM10.

It is also important to measure the CO2 emissions of combustion engines as precisely as possible. It is not just about compliance with environmental standards, but also about fuel consumption. We also deliver Portable Emission Measurement (PEM) systems for measuring emissions in real-time conditions on the street. While driving the car under real conditions, you might not execute a certified test run under predefined environmental conditions, therefore, other emissions will occur that need to be measured and analysed. AVL offers a wide range of in-vehicle measurement systems and software to determine what is actually coming out of the exhaust - in real driving conditions.

But there will also be a focus on non-exhaust emissions, particularly brake dust. Electric vehicles don’t emit exhaust emissions, but there is still brake and tyre dust. We have developed entire test systems to test real brakes under real-time conditions.

What would be the significant growth drivers in the traditional combustion engine business for AVL testing divisions?

As mentioned, the Euro-7 regulation will be one of the main drivers for AVL in the future. Besides all the other technologies like ADAS, every engine will be partly electrified either as a pure Hybrid, Plug In- or mild Hybrid. The technology of an Integrated Combustion Engine (ICE) can also be used to run with pure hydrogen. AVL is developing several engines for various customers that convert existing ICE technologies in new concepts.

We are also working on measurement technologies for synthetic fuel. AVL is working closely with Formula One teams as they will soon run their engines with synthetic fuels.

AVL has played a significant role in the development of the diesel engine in Europe. However, many OEMs are talking about discontinuing diesel engine vehicles in the near future. Do you see this as a challenge?

This trend will not have a great impact on our testing division. It will have a larger influence on the powertrain development division for diesel engines. If you take a look at the share of electrified cars in Europe - especially in Germany - they only account for 10 percent of the total vehicles; the remaining share of cars are still powered by combustion engines.

The combustion engine will still remain relevant for a while. However, increasingly in the form of a hybrid powertrain. AVL is therefore converting existing test beds for the car manufacturers so that they can be used to test hybrid vehicles. There are several customers who request pure electrical test benches. Some of our customers come to us with the requirement to completely convert existing combustion engine test fields to electrification test systems.

Between electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, which one holds more promise in India in the near term and the long term?

I believe, in countries where the electricity network is not yet fully developed, hybrid cars will provide more flexibility, combining the possibility to run with fuel for an overland trip and electrified within the city.

In India, two-wheelers might have a faster increase in electrification similar to the development in China. ICE engines might keep dominating for a while, especially for the commercial vehicle. The introduction of pure battery electric vehicles mainly depends on how fast India is able to provide the necessary high-voltage charging infrastructure.

What about the AVL Tech Centre in India?

Our Tech Centre in India is one of our strongest Competence Centre for turnkey projects. AVL India is a very strong and reliable partner when it comes to planning of entire test fields including plant facilities. In the field of Powertrain Development, our India Tech Centre focuses on all three technologies – ICE, electrification and hybridisation – equally in all segments. AVL is an engineering company assisting customers with all types of mobility technologies. We recently got one of the first orders for fuel cell test systems from an Indian customer. So there is something exciting happening in our Tech Centre in India.

What about the revenues? How much does your testing division contribute to the whole company?

In 2020, the company generated a turnover of EUR 1.7 billion, of which 12 percent was invested in R&D activities. The testing division contributes with around 50 percent of the turnover.

What are the challenges in the business?

One of the biggest challenges is definitely to cover the growing bandwidth of technologies. A couple of years ago, we were only talking about ICE vehicles. Today, we are talking about ICE vehicles, hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, batteries, ADAS and autonomous driving, digitalisation, cybersecurity and big data. AVL has built comprehensive competences to accelerate the vision of smart and connected mobility.

If you are an engineer, you have a wide range of technologies to specialise in. So one of the challenges is to find the right engineers to work on these different technologies.

What is the latest on safety by AVL?

One of the issues that is yet to gain the industry’s attention is fire safety in electric vehicles. AVL has been associated with fire marshals in Europe. Fire brigades realised an increase in accidents with Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV). Not only accidents but also burning BEVs in parking garages are a big challenge. These vehicles are very difficult to extinguish due to the chemistry of the lithium-ion battery.

AVL has developed a firefighting system which can extinguish a lithium-ion battery fire on the testbed or for fire brigade usage. It is a unique patented system that runs on liquids such as water or gases like nitrogen to extinguish battery fires. We conducted a couple of test series with hybrid batteries. A burning battery with 18 metres of flame height and temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius could be extinguished in one minute. (MT)

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