By Lou Smyrlis
Embrace innovation with ferocity; adopt flexibility with fervor. That must be the rallying cry for the automotive industry, and all the shops that service it, to survive the tsunami of change about to crash on our continent with electric vehicles (EVs).
Regulations, corporate strategies and consumer preferences are coalescing in a way certain to lead to the end of the internal combustion engine. For Canada there is much at stake. Auto manufacturing contributes over $20 billion to Canadian GDP. Auto and parts production account for almost a fifth of manufacturing sales. We simply can’t afford to be on the wrong side of this change in market dynamics.
In 2020 there were just 2.5 million EVs sold globally. But that is forecasted to grow to 11.2 million sold by 2025 and 31.1 million by 2030, with one out of three vehicles sold being electric.
By 2040 EV sales are expected to eclipse the production of traditional internal combustion engines. More aggressive forecasts predict that could happen as early as 2031.
The most obvious challenge will be adapting to the impact of EV powertrain options on key components, such as engines and transmissions, and the number and types of parts required. Take, for example, the most complicated part of the fossil-fuelled powertrain: the transmission. With EVs, transmissions will become much simpler gear boxes, requiring maybe 20-30 parts instead of the 500-600 parts that make up today’s transmissions.
A more complicated challenge will be how shops can best support their OEM partners, who for decades reaped the production efficiencies of just having to pump out gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. The move to EVs will force the traditional OEMs to quickly adjust to market demand for a challenging array of power options. The options will range from electric battery and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles to traditional gas and diesel-powered vehicles to hybrid vehicles which combine electric power with fossil fuels. Somehow all these vehicles will have to run on the same assembly line but production will have to be scaled to meet regional market demands, which are anticipated to vary widely to 2035. We don’t know how the behaviour of end customers will evolve, so OEMs will have to adjust to different volumes of demand for the different types of powertrains. The ability to quickly scale production, up or down, for vehicles with a particular powertrain will become paramount.
Such dramatic change will be multiplied for automotive suppliers who will need to focus on innovation and flexibility like never before to support the quickly changing needs of their OEM customers. Likely this will mean investments in cobots that drive efficiency and machinery automation that increases manufacturing flexibility.
It’s a future definitely not built for the weak of heart or those cowed by the need to invest. As our cover story boldly asks: Are you ready for the future? SMT