VW development chief Ulrich Hackenberg joined the Audi premium-car division in 1985. He subsequently held a variety of management roles within the VW group. Hackenberg has been a member of the management board of the VW brand since February 2007. He spoke recently with automotiveIT about mobility trends and the role of IT in development.
Mr. Hackenberg, German automakers gave battery technology a push in the Nineties but did not pursue it further. A mistake?
With the Golf Ecomatic and the Golf City Stromer going into production at the start of the Nineties, we at Volkswagen offered our customers technologies such as start-stop and electric drive as alternative mobility concepts. We were ahead of the times and, to the some extent, the available basic technology. The battery technology was too weak, too heavy and too expensive at that time, and the engine shutting down at traffic lights unsettled customers then, although they now accept it as a fuel-saving technology and even expect in the future. In this respect, the decision then was justified and understandable due to the conditions.
That may be. Where then are the research emphases in battery technology today?
Today we are basically still facing the same challenges on electric vehicles as we were back then; some examples are the energy density of the battery, the charging infrastructure or the question of how electric current will be produced renewably. But the basic technology in the battery sector, along with lithium technology, has advanced significantly in performance, and a reduction in the cost of batteries can be expected in association with the progressive industrialization of battery cell production ”“ albeit still at a high level. In recent years, Volkswagen has strongly addressed the issue of e-mobility. It has especially performed research on batteries, teaming up with a number of partners.
On what exactly?
The significant issues are range, performance, weight, costs and safety. With this focused, targeted cooperation, I am sure that we will make further, clear progress in this area over the next few years.
How will people come to grips with the range and durability issues?
The issue of range must be viewed relatively and depends on our customers’ specific demands for mobility. Â For urban mobility concepts, we intend to meet the expectations of many customers with a range of about 150 kilometers. At the same time, a powertrain output of 40 to 80 kW seems to be very attractive, depending on the vehicle class. The requirements can also be achieved in subcompacts like the future Up vehicle with battery packs of 18 to 20kWh. For mobility requirements beyond this, we see hybrid concepts like our TwinDrive, which have a more inter-city character and ranges on the scale of 400 to 500 kilometers. It is capable of driving up to 50 miles on purely electric power and will also use a fuel-efficient internal combustion engine.
Battery durability is closely linked to the charging strategy and the heat impact of the cells associated with it. Quick charging at high current adds to the thermal strain on the battery and thus has an effect on operating life. These complex correlations are a core issue that we, together with our partners, are grappling with in the development of our electric drives.
In the meantime, every German automaker is collaborating with its own partner. Audi with Sanyo, Mercedes with Evonic, BMW with Bosch/Samsung, VW with Toshiba ”¦ Does that make sense? Can the German auto industry win the international race in this field like this?
We are deeply involved in basic research and are dealing with the basic chemistry of innovative batteries through our stake in Varta Microbattery. This is similar to our involvement in alternative fuels, where we are engaged in the industrialization of second-generation bio-fuels through our participation in Choren and Iogen. Â Â We want to build up our expertise in this area to achieve the highest possible performance and safety in the control of power electronics in the interaction between the battery and the powertrain.
Over and above this, we are preparing to develop the battery packs ourselves, meaning the interconnection and housing of cells in a vehicle battery, and produce them in our component factories. But we don’t intend to build the cells in-house. Here we are collaborating with the best partners in the world, such as Sanyo and Toshiba ”“ as well as Byd for our Chinese market presence. But we are also in talks with other partners. Currently, the technologies of these manufacturers vary by their electrochemistry and their manufacturing concept. We benchmark them and, in this way, assure our access to the most current technology in each case and to sufficient production capacity.
With the Up Lite and the L1, you are showcasing two diesel hybrid vehicles, futuristic vehicles for the mobility of the future. Hasn’t the powertrain technology fallen short or are hybrids simply more of a bridging technology for Volkswagen?
As Europe’s largest automaker, we have to be involved with all the current trends in powertrain research and development and assess their economic importance in the short-, middle- and long-term. We proceed under the assumption that internal combustion powertrains based on fossil and renewal fuels will continue to predominate for several generations, but accompanied by growing electrification of the drive train, in the form of hybrid concepts such as micro, mild, full and plug-in hybrids. In addition, battery-based electric drive will gain importance.
In all drive systems, technologies on the vehicle side to reduce energy needs must not be forgotten.Concepts and technologies for the reduction of driving resistance or the optimization of aerodynamics, vehicle weight, rolling resistance, friction and comfort-related energy needs decrease the energy use regardless of the powertrain concept. That is precisely what the L1 and Up Lite concept cars are aiming for. Both concepts push the vehicle technology envelope in their design and in their materials and manufacturing. And it is also possible to expand the two-cylinder diesel full-hybrid to the plug-in hybrid with a stronger e-disk and a larger battery. That yields one drive unit, which holds out the prospect of an attractive drive concept with low fuel consumption for the basic Up.
What do you expect from the electric car and what share of the Volkswagen model line-up will electric vehicles have by 2010? The federal government is even talking about a total of a million units.
Currently, you still need to be a prophet to see the volume trend for electric vehicles on the road. The logic of e-vehicles results for the most part when the energy for the use of an electric car comes from renewable sources. That may still take a long time, since new power plant capacity is especially associated with enormous investments.Here it’s essential to plan long-term. To quote Martin Winterkorn: “The way to the electric car isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” If the federal government’s projections prove true, the share of Volkswagen vehicles will certainly be in the range of today’s market share. Until fairly large volumes are produced, internal combustion drive will be the determinant powertrain alternative ”“ with the potential for fuel savings described above. Â We have shown what is possible technologically today, especially with BlueMotion
Experts are already warning that lithium reserves are not sufficient to meet the demand from automakers worldwide. How do you see this?
Similar to case of petroleum, the rising demand will lead to the development of new deposits. Currently, the largest share of lithium still comes from Chile ”“ in the future, the mining of lower-grade deposits in other regions could pay off.There is also work being done on increasingly acquiring lithium from recycled materials. So we see no basic problem with availability.
To this point, has the auto industry lacked the (right) tools and program, to generally calculate resources and the future need for them precisely?
It’s often the case that human (buying) behavior and the future ”“ political ”“ conditions and trends can only be mapped inadequately in these kinds of tools. Here it’s imperative to anticipate future developments from the most varied social and other currents and to extrapolate trends. In the context of our future-oriented and trend research, we have actually developed our own tools.When key issues loom, they collate and automatically present the gigantic amounts of data that are available and publicly accessible worldwide on new trends. Nonetheless, look at the way that the financial crisis surprised us: It’s impossible to map every parameter comprehensively. That applies to the process that created the crisis as well as to the various measures that were introduced to keep it under control.
In the development of the mobility of tomorrow, it’s not just powertrains that play an important role. Next to complete internet access, the iPod generation certainly expects other intelligent systems in the car. What can you offer this generation in the infotainment area in the future?
Customers increasingly organize their daily routine and needs for information and communication with the help of mobile devices. More and more, this technology is becoming a constant companion. The customer doesn’t want to do without it even in his vehicle. That applies equally to the user interface, which he has learned like a language, and to the various services.Our customers should feel at home in their vehicles and be able to use existing personal information as usual. We are working on these so-called connectivity systems in a targeted way, and, through our Auto@web research project, have already demonstrated our first insights into the networking of the vehicle with our intranet-based communication network.
Two years ago, you presented three virtual concept cars (“room,”“e-go,” and “one” that sketch out driving in 2028. Â Just a finger exercise for designers ”“ or a vision to be taken seriously?
We are systematically involved with potential future scenarios as part of our trend and future research. How the future will precisely develop, of course, always depends on conditions that are just emerging. But being prepared for various trends also means being able to react in the short-term.
In your option, will the concept of “autonomous driving” as well as “driving in convoy” shown in virtual concept cars be part of everyday life in 2028?
Yes, I can definitely imagine that.With the Touareg Stanley (2005) and the Passat Junior (2007) and with outstanding showings in international competitions, we proved that automatic driving is basically possible. These research activities are already flowing into the assistance systems that we are offering customers in our production vehicles.
With radar systems, we monitor the blind spot that is hardly visible in the rearview mirror and warn the driver about potentially dangerous traffic approaching on the side during lane changes. Or with a camera system, we check the vehicle’s lane alignment and correct it automatically using our electro-mechanical steering. The steering torque introduced at the same time warns and informs the driver about the autonomous intervention of the assistance system. In a similar way, we support the driver travelling in a convoy with automatic acceleration and braking to a stop. Or we introduce automatic braking if the system recognizes that the driver is not reacting to a dangerous situation.
If we are on the threshold of a new ”“ environmentally correct ”“ mobility, don’t we need an overall concept for the car, public transportation and the infrastructure? The key term here is traffic management.
It’s certainly right to develop an overall concept, and it’s necessary. It assumes a functioning, public, local transit with accompanying infrastructure. You can largely assume that in Europe, but not in all parts of the world. Today people are deciding on what, in their view, is the most suitable transportation carrier. In densely populated inner cities, local public transit is often the best solution. Motorized individual transportation is irreplaceable for wide-ranging developments on the edge of cities, in the country or for fairly long distances.
Traffic management ”“ it sounds good, but it simply doesn’t exist today. Reports of traffic jams come too late, detour routes are often clogged, efficient route calculations from navigation systems are in their infancy. Have we not yet come far enough to control traffic flow or have the auto industry and politicians been caught napping?
No, we haven’t been caught napping, but there are in fact challenges for us and for politicians. The transportation of people and goods will continue to climb until 2020, based on our projections. Autobahns will be especially affected. We have a clear need for action on investment in transportation infrastructure. One example is optimized construction site management. Construction sites are an important trigger for traffic jams, and every traffic jam we prevent reduces the danger of accidents and, of course, pollution. The interplay of intelligent roads and highly developed vehicle technology on a sound infrastructure is the key to greater efficiency in highway traffic. But automatic distance control is an example of something that is already possible today and available on Volkswagen models. The technology supports the driver, and heavy traffic remains fluid at the same time.In this way, traffic disruptions can be avoided, pollution reduced and travel times decreased.
In the future, with the help of numerous sensors, our vehicles will be capable of grasping the traffic situation even better and to communicate with other vehicles or infrastructure devices like traffic lights.Building on this, traffic assistance systems will be developed to allow the driver and vehicle to travel optimally through traffic, not just safely and comfortably.The already named network (Car2X) will play a central role in the process.
Your colleague Klaus-Dieter SchÃ¼rmann, the finance and IT chief at VW Commercial Vehicles, told us in an interview that IT is the key for continued productivity and efficiency increases in the entire company. Are you aligned with this opinion?
You can say that IT is a basic prerequisite for operational readiness in a large, globally networked company. You could also say nothing works without IT. But that doesn’t mean that functional IT is a guarantor of various efficiency and productivity increases. That requires constant efforts by all participants and a company culture that drives these processes on all levels.
On global development teams, does the issue of data security play an overarching role? A volatile issue. In your view, has it been sufficiently solved?
Data protection and data security are in fact priority one issues for us.Redundant firewall and intrusion prevention systems secure our IT systems against unjustified access. These information security systems are continually checked and further advanced.
Do you believe there are intelligent areas of synergy with business IT, especially with regard to research and development?
Definitely. IT is already deeply integrated in every business process and this trend will continue to intensify. For sustainable mobility, we will network our vehicles “with the world.” We are convinced that we will not only be able to increase our already high safety standards in this way, but also make significant progress on comfort and intuitive controls concepts.
In conclusion: What can be said about Volkswagen’s spending on research and development over the next five years?In 2008 alone, the costs of research and development came to just under 5 billion euros. Even in times of worldwide crisis, there won’t be any “penny wise, pound foolish” saving.Investment in innovation and research secures competitiveness in coming years, so we will continue to strengthen our efforts.