Everyone agrees that there is the beginnings of a revolution brewing in the automobile industry, with massive changes expected in terms of vehicle usage, ownership and the types of automobiles, as well as the technology within. And the advent of the EV (electric vehicle) has created the likes of Tesla, the darling of the stock market, venture capitalists and investors, as much as that of the tree-hugging green brigade.
Despite the sky-high valuation of Tesla—significantly more than General Motors or Ford—the carmaker had raised a total of $19.9 billion, and yet until 2018, had $9 billion of negative cash flow, supporting the notion that you needed very deep pockets to be able to get into the EV marketplace. Yet, when Sony shocked crowds at the consumer electronics show (CES) 2020 in Las Vegas earlier this year with an electric, autonomous car, the Vision-S, experts were all excited by the possibility that the car signalled how facile it was to get into the automotive field today.
Electric motors, inverters and battery packs—the three main aggregates of the EV—are available off-the-shelf, so it should be easy, in theory, to put together an electric car. Yet, getting them all to interact with each other and the other mechanical elements of an automobile at their efficient best is not that obvious. That is where German automotive component giant Bosch and Salzburg-based Benteler International come in. Between them, they have developed a modular EV platform, which provides car manufacturers and potential EV ventures to get into the EV space with the minimal of developmental costs and time.
To complete the product development process, famed Italian design house Pininfarina has joined hands with them to provide design knowhow for the styling and the engineering of the body and packaging of the vehicle. What the three together are proposing is a new modular, scalable and tailor-made e-mobility product plan, developed together with future clients. To that, Pininfarina’s CEO Silvio Angori would like to add, “Clients can also count on an unparalleled benefit: a unique style signed by legendary design house Pininfarina.”
“Thanks to this strategic collaboration,” explains Angori, “we, as in Bosch, Benteler and Pininfarina, can offer car manufacturers fast prototyping as well as complete vehicle and product development services up to start of production. A proven rolling chassis solution provides a predefined design, which is fully functional and immediately applicable for the development of electric vehicles. This saves the customer time and money, making them speed up their time-to-market even more.”
Giuseppe Bonollo, senior vice president sales & marketing for Pininfarina, added, “It is possible for us to have running prototypes ready in six to twelve months. We believe it is also feasible to imagine the time from the start of a project to start of production (SOP) condensed to just 30 months.”
What are the limitations defined by the chassis and the powertrain developed between Bosch and Benteler? “The prototype wheelbase is 3000mm, and this is scalable up or down by 150mm,” explains Bonollo. Which means that it would be possible to develop vehicles with wheelbases from 2.85 metres to 3.13 metres, thereby catering to the segments from C to E (from a big hatchback like a Volkswagen Golf to a Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV).
The base version of the chassis features a motor up front, driving the front wheels, with a power output of 150kW, which is around 200bhp. It is possible to add a motor on the rear axle too, of a similar output, to take peak output to 300kW, or 400bhp combined, in an all-wheel-drive configuration. “Thus it is possible to develop everything from a mid-size sedan, all the way up to a seven-seater SUV or minivan,” explains Angori.
“Given our 90 years of car design activities, we have the best abilities in the fields of style and top-hat engineering for an optimized link to the car body,” points out Angori. “Car manufacturers are increasingly seeking pre-validated system solutions, which offer an easy and reliable way to build new electric vehicles. This is even truer in the world of start-ups, especially those with semi-premium and premium positioning.”
Angori also confirms that Pininfarina can develop the body in whatever material the client may prefer – steel, aluminium, or a combination of steel and aluminium, even composite – so that volume viability is addressed as well. It would be interesting to see whether Mahindra & Mahindra would be one of the first clients for this concept, given that sister company Mahindra Tech owns Pininfarina. Or, whether one of the many Indian start-ups would go a-visiting Pininfarina soon.
(Author of several automotive books, founder editor of many leading auto mags, Gautam Sen has also consulted with most of the Indian auto majors. He has also worked with several leading car designers such as Gérard Godfroy, Tom Tjaarda and Marcello Gandini, among others.