Eliminating zero km failures is the mantra of electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers and for good reason —consumers have extremely high expectations of electric vehicles and simply expect that they will just always work. Because EVs are much simpler from a mechanical perspective than internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE), buyers of EVs expect that their electric vehicle will require close to zero maintenance, except perhaps for the replacement of brake pads, tires, and windshield wipers.
Part of what’s driving these expectations is that with the shift to vehicles powered by batteries and electric motors, automobiles have in a sense morphed into a combination of hardware and software—computers on wheels. This shift away from mechanical and analog parts is creating a huge disruption in the auto supply chain and ecosystem as the thousands of components that go into a car are no longer needed. According to an analysis from Nick Karaisz of Kar Enterprises, if comparing an ICE to an EV build with a one gear transmission and one AC motor, an EV only requires 3–6% the number of components of a traditional ICE (note, analysis only looked at the combustion engine and transmission).
Though EV adoption is still early, especially in the US, consumers are not only becoming educated on the lack of maintenance required for EVs, but the automakers and industry are trying to sell buyers on the concept of total cost of ownership (TCO).
Because electric vehicles currently cost more than comparable gas-powered vehicles, original equipment makers (OEMs) are stressing the idea that over many years an EV will cost much less to operate due to the combination of lower fuel (electricity) and maintenance costs.
In fact, when Ford recently launched the new F-150 Lightning pickup, they focused on targeting fleet buyers and construction companies not only because of the 11 electrical outlets and massive “frunk,” but that less scheduled maintenance is required. This is critical and a huge selling point to buyers that operate their vehicles for their business.
Cars and trucks that require little to no maintenance are starting to cause distress among car dealership and auto repair shop owners. At the same time, the promise and expectation of “less maintenance” also means that the stakes for OEMs and suppliers has gotten much, much higher.
Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales both in the US and globally, has also shifted the paradigm that the idea of almost any part of an electric car can be swapped out or improved over time through over-the-air (OTA) software updates.
High Stakes for EVs
As new electric vehicles are launched seemingly every week, OEMs will have to step up their game and improve processes and supply chain management, or risk building a reputation of poor quality. Because of the pressure on automakers to bring new EVs to market quickly—driven by not only traditional competitors, but also new entrants such as Tesla, Rivian, Lucid Motors, and others—the risk of product failures and poor quality has never been higher. We’ve already seen some of this to date with Volkswagen having to delay the release of their ID.3 model in Europe due to significant software issues. Hyundai, Ford, and GM among many others have had to recall or halt production of their EVs due to battery issues and fires.
Modular Design Challenges
More than 50 years ago, IBM adopted a modular approach to mainframe design and repair. You don’t so much as fix in the field as swap out the problem with a new module. EV manufacturers have taken a similar approach, but there is growing concern amongst consumers on the availability of replacement modules.
Unlike internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, where a dealer has the expertise to potentially repair the faulty part or have a replacement part in stock that is shared across multiple models, EVs have many fewer parts and tend to be more like computer hardware assembled from modules. As a result, dealers may not be able to repair or replace an individual component, but rather may have to wait for an entire replacement module to be shipped from the OEM. Because most EVs are both new and currently produced in lower volume, there simply may not be an adequate supply of extra modules. Finally, the technologies and modules in electric vehicles are generally first generation and dealer service technicians may not yet have the training and expertise or experience to repair, let alone replace these components.
No ZERO km Failures — Build it right the first time
At Indium Corporation, we work with EV OEMs and their suppliers to address electrical, mechanical, and thermal challenges. Our suite of Rel-ion™ products are reliable, scalable, and proven. In other words, they meet industry standards in reliability, are scalable in that they are readily available from a sourcing standpoint, and are proven, allowing manufacturers to forgo the typical long development cycles and testing which is more commonplace for legacy automotive products.
Some of the key technological drivers for EVs that Indium Corporation is addressing are:
- Creating longer mission profiles because EVs are expected to do more, stay on longer, and work harder than a traditional ICE.
- Increasing voltage as charging times must be improved.
- Exploring higher densification of electronics components.
- Leveraging reliability in power electronics, where CPUs and GPUs create “hot spots,” and power electronics create overall higher operating temperatures.