By Jeff Sanford
Cambridge, United Kingdom -- July 6, 2015 -- A UK consultancy has identified the important technological megatrends set to define the vehicle industry in the years to come.
"Structural Electronics 2015-2025," the latest report from IDTechEx, points to the increasing electrification of cars as one of the industry's top emerging trends.
Both conventional and electric vehicles are rapidly becoming more electrical and electronic, and much less mechanical. This trend is leading to new concepts in body design, according to the report.
So-called "structural electronics” are the new, new thing in the industry. As batteries become solid state, they are being incorporated into internal and external bodywork to “save space, self-cool and possibly manage higher currents to drive those motors."
What does this mean in plain language? Electrical components will become part of the structure of the car itself. Parts of a battery, the supercapacitors, could be built right into the car bodywork. Volvo is said to be working on a deck lid that is also a supercapacitor.
“For 100 years, electrics and electronics have consisted of components connected together and dropped in a box. Now we are moving to structural electronics using smart materials. The electrics and electronics become load-bearing, replacing dumb metal and plastic," says Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx. "We saw this beginning some time ago with dumb glass windshields being replaced with ones containing heater and antenna patterns. Now things get much more ambitious."
This could eventually mean “smart vehicle skins” that are “conformal” and generate solar power. Benefits of structural electronics include longer life and reliability and up to 40 percent reduction in overall cost, weight and reliability.
Another trend: vehicles will begin to feature more than one motor. This will be the case for hybrid and pure electric vehicles. In-wheel motors are becoming a thing. The best-selling electric bus, the BYD B9, features such motors and is landing orders "up to 2000 at a time." Many cars planned for launch have in-wheel motors in two or four wheels.
The integration of these in-wheel motors will drive another megatrend: a tighter integration between power electronics and brakes. Mechanical, electric and electronic components are merging in the car of the future.
The market for electric vehicles is expected to be $500 billion by 2025.