Leoni CTO Udo Hornfeck: Exploiting potential for cutting electric car costs with new forms of collaboration
High-voltage wiring systems for electric vehicles can be manufactured considerably more cost effectively. That calls for an overall perspective across system and value creation limits as well as a serious effort to standardise. Udo Hornfeck, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Leoni’s Wiring Systems Division, the provider of energy and data management solutions in the automotive sector, urges the automotive industry to collaborate more closely.
“New vehicle registration figures are showing that electric and hybrid vehicles are attracting ever more buyers. However, the car industry isn’t yet on the home straight. The emission limits that will apply in 2030 can only be met if the electric car becomes a mass-market product. Along with matching up to other parameters, it will therefore be a matter especially of significantly lowering vehicle costs. That will be the only way to create an attractive overall package. New generations of high-voltage wiring systems can make a notable contribution in this respect.
As is the case with all fresh technologies or products, there is significant potential for optimisation in the respective next generations. The key will be that we don’t seek this potential by just looking at improving the individual components, but rather that we consider the overall system level – and therefore the entire scope for solutions.
Alongside material costs, production costs constitute a major element. As a holistic partner for concept development of energy data management systems, this is where we would like to seek the best comprehensive solution together with our customers and suppliers. Initial analyses carried out jointly with our customers are showing that high-voltage wiring systems certainly do have corresponding optimisation potential through system adjustments. We can optimise our own production very well with our expertise as a systems supplier. Yet the key is to unleash all the potential along the value chain. That means it may make sense to accept higher supplier production costs if assembly costs at our customers’ plants thereby simultaneously drop. That, in turn, calls for readiness to talk openly, something to which we are happy to proactively contribute.
The transition from mostly manual towards highly-automated production of high-voltage wiring systems harbours additional efficiency potential. The plant technology needed has meanwhile been developed further, which is why it’s worth thinking about future electric platforms via a paradigm shift. The important thing is to keep an eye not only on the costs of production equipment, but also the lifecycle costs of the product. That’s because automation is worthwhile especially when producing large lot sizes with limited variation.
In volatile markets, this can also be achieved by deploying standard components or standard sub-networks on several vehicle platforms simultaneously or also across several manufacturers. A specific example would be that standards for connector systems can help to facilitate machine handling. Leoni is already developing the next generations of some components, for instance high-voltage splitters for connecting auxiliary units, with a view to a high degree of automation in assembly. If also applying this in other areas succeeds, the variety of versions for the traction harness could be sharply reduced, thereby establishing a de-facto standard.
There are good reasons for the variety of high-voltage cable harnesses that is presently on the market. Manufacturer specifications are based on many years of experience and aim to achieve maximum safeguarding. To exploit the productivity potential that can be attained with standardisation, it is essential to talk to one another about experience and to reach new forms of collaboration. With corresponding flexibility on all sides, we can jointly contribute to making electric cars more cost effective – without compromising safety or other product properties.”