The Basics Of EV Car Manufacturing And Assembly

0
542

Tesla is the latest automobile brand outside China to mull exporting electric vehicles (EVs) made there to the US. Sources within the company told Reuters that the company’s considering selling its Model Y and Model 3 EVs, produced by its assembly plant in Shanghai, amid a slow demand in China. The plant fulfills orders from buyers in Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia.

The report also cites several reasons for contemplating such a shift: rise in car prices in the US, lower cost of raw materials in China, and—as declared by state media—the long-term strength of the yuan against the US dollar. These factors have helped the country achieve a global market share of over 50%, with an estimated year-on-year growth of 118%.

Although gradually, experts agree that the shift of hybrids from fossil-fuel vehicles is happening. As such, it would be a good idea to learn how these vehicles are made. The process is more or less the same as making fossil-fuel vehicles but with a few distinctions.

Flexible Manufacturing System

The high sticker prices among EVs are attributable to several reasons, the most significant being battery technology. Industry analysts point to the current high demand for raw materials, namely lithium, for driving battery prices over the next few years. While manufacturers are discovering new battery chemistries constantly, it’ll take time for them to be readily available.

Because of this, manufacturers have to look to save in other aspects of EV production. Arguably key to this is the flexible manufacturing system (FMS), a manufacturing principle that enables a production line to adapt to changes in a product’s design and quantity. As new battery designs enter the market, an FMS can help maintain a steady supply.

Some brands like Ford and Volkswagen have invested in tooling their assembly lines to be more flexible, owing to the rapid evolution of EV technology. In short, they can no longer be certain if their catalogue of components and equipment will still be viable in the next few years. Costly as the investment may be, the FMS’s long-term effects include reduced production downtime.

Outsourced Components

Manufacturers mostly make their combustion engines in-house, but that isn’t necessarily the case for EV powertrains. According to data from S&P Global (formerly IHS Markit), the ratio of EV powertrain components made in-house to those outsourced can be between 25/75 and 40/60 for most brands. By comparison, the ratio for combustion engines is usually 90/10.

Such is the reality for carmakers who have spent their whole lives producing combustion engines and have recently jumped into the EV bandwagon. For instance, between 2011 and 2017, Nissan outsourced every powertrain component for its LEAF EV except the motor, which was built in-house. The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt/Opel Ampera-e had all its parts outsourced to a single supplier.

The S&P Global study forecasts that manufacturers will be able to produce at least 60% to 70% of the EV powertrain components in-house by 2030. Even GM, which completely outsources its parts for its EVs right now, will strive to reach that goal. However, it also points out that they might not insource their EV engines completely.  

Aluminum Means Everything

A market report published last January indicates that global aluminum production is expected to increase by nearly 14 metric tons by 2024. The Asia-Pacific region, including China and India, will contribute 74% of the projected 3.7% year-on-year growth. One key driver for such a trend, it states, is the increasing demand for EVs.

But why is aluminum a highly sought-after resource? One reason is to maximize an EV’s range through weight reduction. Aluminum is around 2.5 times less dense than steel, reducing weight drag and braking time required to avert accidents. If an accident happens, aluminum can absorb twice as much collision energy as steel, lessening the risk of concussions on the people inside.

In a way, aluminum has been instrumental to EVs in closing the range gap with their fossil fuel counterparts. For instance, all four variants of the all-aluminum midsize Chery Ant have a New European Driving Cycle (NEDC)-verified range of 510 km.

It should be noted that aluminum costs four to five times as much per ton as steel and requires 50% extra material to achieve the desired rigidity. Regardless, many manufacturers are more than willing to pay extra for aluminum due to its potential to create the next game-changing car.

Environmental Best Practices

An EV that takes so many resources to produce defeats the purpose of owning an EV in the first place. A Chevy Bolt may have a carbon mileage of fewer than 200 grams for every mile driven, but that won’t matter if charging it involves drawing power from a coal-fired plant.

Changing a country’s fuel for the power grid may be beyond an EV manufacturer’s capabilities. However, they can control the sources of their raw materials, with a preference for ethical and sustainable ones. Manufacturers should consider their ethical and environmental impact every time they pick a source for their rare metals.

Conclusion

As more countries consider favoring EVs over gasoline and diesel vehicles, everyone down to the average buyer should know how one is made. It may not come in the next few years, but EVs are undoubtedly the future of transportation.