An Interview with Anjan Hemanth Kumar, Frost & Sullivan

Automotive vehicle manufacturers (“OEM’s”) must adjust quickly to an ever-changing landscape of economic, social, and environmental forces. We know this is true but still, the adoption of some technologies like the emotor take longer than others for several reasons.

Anjan Hemanth Kumar, Program Manager with the Frost & Sullivan European Automotive & Transportation Practice, has researched and evaluated many aspects of change and technological advancements in the electric vehicle field. Malcolm Burwell, Director, Technology Development and Transfer for the International Copper Association (ICA), had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Kumar about global emotor technology growth and development and why some automotive motor technologies are more deeply entrenched in the marketplace than others.

M. Burwell: What are the major challenges the automotive industry is facing regarding the advancement of emotor technology?

A. Kumar: There are many questions that have to be answered about pure electric vehicles. It’s only been four years since they were mass-marketed. In that time, consumer experience has trickled down and now impacts the future development of traction motors. Costs of emotors are another consideration with the desire for an increase in power, speed, torque and power density. Rare earth magnets are definitely a major challenge to the automotive industry, and another key issue is the adoption of advanced technologies.

M. Burwell: Three years ago we were in the early stages of recovery from the rare earth peak. Where are we now?

A. Kumar: Although automotive OEM’s were quite uncertain about the export issue with China, they are now looking at alternatives and are making incremental improvements. One example is Toyota’s third generation system which includes design optimization where the design of the magnet itself has changed allowing for more motor efficiency.

M. Burwell: There are incremental improvements versus the idea of changing everything. How are the OEM’s in various global markets contending with the economic and export/volatility issue?

A. Kumar: The European OEM’s are looking at alternative technologies (for emotor advancement) as they do not have access to the magnets or similar motor supply chains as the U.S., China, or Japan. I think induction motor and alternative technologies are also being considered in Europe by some automotive manufacturers to replace some vehicles that currently have magnets, even though magnet motors are used in many cases. There’s a European company that has developed a hybrid squirrel cage motor and a permanent magnet motor type of technology.

M. Burwell: What’s happening with emotor technology advancement in China?

A. Kumar: I think BYD (Build Your Dreams, Auto Co., Ltd.) and SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation) and Chery (Cherry Automobile Co., Ltd.) are actively looking at electric vehicles and technologies such as emotors. They have a good supply chain network but what is happening in China is completely different than the technology/innovation that’s taking place in Germany, for example. There isn’t much happening in China with emotor technology advancement presently.

M. Burwell: What lessons can be learned from Tesla’s success? Will their success have any effect on other OEM’s?

A. Kumar: Tesla is a good, technology-based company. However, they are going in a completely different direction from other automotive manufacturing companies. Tesla is taking advantage of the huge incentives provided by the European countries, specifically Norway and the Netherlands. They are also building a super-charger network so the customer won’t need to worry about the disruption of a charge. On the technology side, and as a general observation – there are many OEM’s that do not agree with Tesla’s approach to the market. Regarding Tesla’s induction motor technology, they have quite a few patents on this. So, they are utilizing their own knowledge-base but it isn’t this way with the automotive industry. Tesla differentiates itself in its products, technology and market approach. Many of the global OEM’s are looking at a modular approach with technology.

M. Burwell: Is a discussion of an efficiency percentage over-emphasized given the low-running cost differences of various emotor architectures? In other words, what we started asking a few years ago was “how much more does it cost to run a vehicle with an architecture ‘A’ than an archictecture ‘B?’” We found that the cost difference we reviewed was trivial. In an analysis that ran over a 100,000 mile life-cycle of the vehicle, the induction motor cost was only $260 more than the permanent magnet motor.

A. Kumar: Your comments about cost savings in terms of the two emotor architectures makes sense. Another reason the industry is scrutinizing the emotor technology is because of the space-saving and motor control. I have heard that the motor control of an induction motor is a little more complicated.

M. Burwell: Yes, it’s more complicated but at a bill of materials level it is only complicated in the software and the software is not costly. I don’t think this complication is relevant to the choice of technology.

A. Kumar: There has been a lot more interest in induction motor technology recently. For instance, Toyota announced some time ago that they are willing to evaluate induction motors as a stand-by technology. I see the biggest hurdles for the induction motor technology as efficiency, torque density, and power density. However, I would say, after taking into account our discussion today, that the increased space required for an induction motor would be the main challenge. In terms of competition, apart from the permanent magnet motor, it could also be the hybrid or a third type of motor the industry is reviewing. The biggest advantage the induction motor has is its low cost.

M. Burwell: Are there new or interesting emotor projects on the horizon that you are free to describe?

A Kumar: Not really as most of our work for customers of Frost & Sullivan is proprietary. I focus on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends in the EV industry, new technologies and market dynamics in engine technologies and EV’s. My work is now on a global scale. I can say that there is a lot of interest about what is happening in China, and how emotor technology will be adopted there. Our industry will continue to watch China and will help to chart its direction.