Science vs. Fiction

By Stefan Pajung
Schaeffler’s Automotive CEO Matthias Zink assesses ten propositions about mobility of tomorrow.
Proposition 1: In 2025, electric cars can be fully charged in five minutes and achieve a range of up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).
Science vs. Fiction

I need to give the euphoria brake pedal a little tap because, unfortunately, it’s not going to happen that soon. Electric vehicles with 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] of range that can be fully charged in just five minutes will become a reality for sure, but not by 2025. That requires an all-new generation of batteries – talking about solid-state batteries – and the vehicles’ on-board charging systems need to be modified before that kind of technology – which, of course, is highly attractive and marks a breakthrough – will go into mass production. Now, before electric vehicle skeptics start rejoicing: research centers and development departments are intensively working on those objectives and I can share with you that they’re not far from achieving them under laboratory conditions. I feel that 2030 is realistic.

Prediction: “Thumbs up!” Work in progress

Proposition 2: Hydrogen will never make it into mass production in the passenger car sector.
Science vs. Fiction

Be careful with using the word never – I wouldn’t exclude hydrogen in the passenger car sector at this juncture so explicitly. It’s far too early for such a proposition because it’s mainly a question of availability – availability of green hydrogen and the related infrastructure. While both are still in scarce supply H₂ is going to prevail only in the commercial vehicle segment or with stationary applications. Consequently, it’s too early for mass production of fuel cell systems, but I wouldn’t totally exclude it because it’s not a question of technology but a question of availability.

Prediction: When … then

About: Matthias Zink
Science vs. Fiction© Schaeffler

Matthias Zink (born in 1969) studied mechanical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe. His key area of study was automotive engineering. He successfully graduated with a degree in 1994. He started working as a test engineer at LuK in 1994. In subsequent years, ­Matthias Zink held various leadership positions before becoming responsible for the Clutch Systems business unit in 2006. After leading the business unit successfully for seven years, he became President of Schaeffler Automotive Asia/Pacific in China in 2012. In 2014, Matthias Zink transferred back to Germany to become President of the Transmission Technologies business unit. In July 2014, he was appointed President of the Transmission Systems Business Division.

Matthias Zink has held the position of CEO Automotive since January 2017 and is responsible for the business division Transmission Systems, and for the Research and Development for the Automotive Technologies division, as well as the E-Mobility business division established in 2018. Since January 2019, he has been the sole CEO of the Automotive division and has also assumed responsibility for the Engine Systems and Chassis Systems business divisions as well as Global Key Account Management Automotive. The Automotive Technologies division is based at Schaeffler’s Bühl location.

Proposition 3: Battery-electric powertrains are going to come out winning in the truck segment as well.
Science vs. Fiction

For most commercial vehicles, that’s an emphatic Yes! Development and rollout of the powertrain technology for electric trucks are making great strides. However, that calls for some differentiation: for long-haul purposes – in other words with heavy-duty trucks – fuel cells are going to gain ground as well, or commercial vehicles with hydrogen engines.

Prediction: Yes … to some extent

Proposition 4: In 2030, the first air taxis are going to swoosh through the air space of big cities.
Science vs. Fiction

For hauling passengers, I don’t see that yet by 2030, but I do believe in the technology of electric flying. You can tell that’s the case by the fact that we’re involved in this exciting forward-thinking sector with our know-how and specifically with components of ours. Two cases in point: our subsidiary Compact Dynamics is working on electric propulsion systems for electric aircraft and to the development of air taxis from FlyNow we’re contributing a steer-by-wire system.

Prediction: Work in good progress

Proposition 5: Delivery vans are no longer going to cover the last mile, being replaced by drones.
Science vs. Fiction

A clear Yes! We’re going to see Amazon and company also use drones for their deliveries in the coming years and I even see last-mile deliveries by electric aircraft.

Prediction: No doubt, will become a reality!

Proposition 6: The car of tomorrow will be operated by means of a joystick.
Science vs. Fiction

I’m deeply convinced that future cars will no longer need to have a steering wheel. It doesn’t need to be a joystick either but new operating and HMI [human-machine interface] concepts are going to go into mass production and will no longer need a steering wheel. Aircraft are flown without steering wheels too. The elimination of the mechanical connection between the steering wheel actuator and the rack and pinion actuator creates many new freedoms for designing the cabin as well as realizing previously unfeasible functions and features for higher safety, convenience and agility that were not possible using current, conventional steering systems.

Prediction: It’s a fact

Proposition 7: The first car made of 100 % recycled materials will soon be ready for mass production.
Science vs. Fiction

Unfortunately, not. That will still take some more time. The circular economy in automotive engineering is growing massively and gaining momentum – that’s truly a good trend. However, today’s vehicles, particularly in terms of strength and weight, have been developed to a level of sophistication combining safe and dynamic handling. Developing appropriate materials from the circular economy and introducing them into the automotive development process in that regard is going to take some more time. The automobile practically needs to be redefined in many of its aspects to enable different designs incorporating the characteristics of the new – recycled – materials. But once again: the importance of subjects like circular economy and recycled materials is going to increase exponentially in view of the subject of sustainability.

Prediction: Will become a reality

Proposition 8: Schaeffler develops a complete, proprietary electric car
Science vs. Fiction

We’re not an automaker and don’t intend to become one either. As a motion technology company, motion of every kind is our business. Whether in rotating wind power systems or in the form of electric powertrains, mechatronic chassis elements or even complete chassis platforms for new mobility concepts: Schaeffler develops more and more highly functional and complex systems. We’re truly open-minded in all directions but ­Schaeffler is not going to build automobiles.

Prediction: No chance!

Proposition 9: In 2030, the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring will be won by an electric car.
Science vs. Fiction

No, it won’t, as painful as admitting that may be for me as a motorsport enthusiast, but the power throughput of electrified vehicles does not yet cover a 24-hour race. A race like that requires the right balance between driving and charging. But we’re not at that point yet because the charging times are too long. But – see Proposition 1 – if the battery technology that can charge 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] of range in five minutes were available, my response would be different.

Prediction: (Still) science fiction

Proposition 10: The transportation sector is going to achieve the specified EU climate goals.
Science vs. Fiction

Unfortunately, it won’t because achieving those goals requires another major joint effort. The automotive industry very quickly managed to develop a wide range of electric car models and to offer them for sale to customers. However, we also need willingness to buy them, availability of green electricity, charging infrastructure and perhaps additional incentives to boost acceptance and use of those vehicles. That’s the only way for us to achieve the climate goals … it does take a joint effort.

Prediction: Not by doing business as usual