Benteler Automotive is hoping to win business in the growing market for electric cars with a platform that is ready for series production.
The German supplier developed the architecture, which it calls Electric Drive System 2.0, with Robert Bosch.
The goal is to sell the platform to either established automakers or startups, which could modify it to their specifications and add bodywork and other components as needed.
Benteler showed the platform to the public at the Frankfurt auto show in September and at this month's CES in Las Vegas.
The supplier has already signed agreements with the high-performance electric startup Automobili Pininfarina and the Chinese real estate company Evergrande to use the technology.
"This platform is modular and scalable," Marco Kollmeier, Benteler's head of E-Mobility, said in an interview. It can be adapted for SUVs or cars, from the larger end of the compact segment through the midsize and large segments, Kollmeier said.
Automakers using the platform "don't have to start from scratch, which means they can reduce costs and time to market," he said.Benteler is already working on an electric vehicle platform for smaller cars, as well as adapting the existing one for big people-mover vehicles such as minibuses.
The Benteler/Bosch platform is a so-called "skateboard," in which the battery cells are laid flat between the front and rear wheels, with drive and suspension modules at either end.
Benteler Automotive specializes in chassis and structural elements, as well as exhaust systems and e-mobility modules. The skateboard design required a new way of thinking about safety and rigidity, Kollmeier said.
"What is different is that by having the battery on the bottom, you don't have driveshaft tunnel, which is a stabilizing element," he said. "You have to rework your whole crash management system. It's a totally different approach."
The platform's "load path" has to be transferred to the outer rim, he said, and combined with special materials technology to create structural stiffness.
With electrification just starting to win market share at very different rates in different regions, automakers are divided on whether electric vehicles should be built on dedicated platforms or ones originally built for internal combustion engines.
Ram Chandrasekaran, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie and a veteran of Ford's hybrid technology research, said that each approach offered benefits right now, but that dedicated platforms are clearly the future.
"There is no doubt in my mind that a dedicated EV platform will make for better electric vehicles," Chandrasekaran said. "However, developing a platform can be a multi-billion-dollar proposition. If you develop a dedicated platform, you need to sell a certain number of EVs before you break even."
That number is likely to be very high, he said, noting that even though Volkswagen is predicting it will sell 22 million electric vehicles in the next decade, it is still hoping to share its new MEB electric platform with Ford to help reach the breakeven point.
"The cost advantages of a dedicated platform will not be apparent in the short term," he said. "But over the long-term, they will or can lead to a better product that will no doubt reduce overall cost and increase profitability."
The consulting company McKinsey echoed that view in a recent report, saying, “Purpose-built EV platforms are lower in material cost and allow better performance in range, acceleration, and interior space. They do, however, come with additional investments in new, stand-alone platforms, leading to higher fixed-cost allocation, especially when initially produced in lower volumes."
According to McKinsey, electric vehicles can cost about $12,000 more per vehicle to build than internal combustion-powered ones, and as a result, automakers “stand to lose money on almost every EV sold, which is clearly unsustainable.”
Dedicated platforms can help to close the gap, McKinsey said in the report. “We believe OEMs can reduce their EV costs by $5,700 to $7,100 by pursuing strategic decontenting paired with a dedicated EV platform,” the consultancy said.
A number of automakers are using or developing dedicated electric vehicle platforms. In addition to Volkswagen, which will roll out the first vehicles on MEB this year, Honda, Hyundai and the Renault-Nissan alliance are all developing such platforms. Others, such as PSA Group, are building electric vehicles on so-called multi-energy architecture.
Kollmeier rejected the notion that Benteler could be seen as competing with automakers, something many Tier 1 suppliers are keen to avoid, by developing an electric vehicle platform.
"It's actually the other way around," he said. "We've presented this platform to OEMs, and they have been quite pleased, and given us good feedback."
"They see the benefits of having a scalable platform," he said, adding that the idea of sharing expensive technology such as electrification or autonomous driving is a trend in the automotive market. "It's a new kind of spirit," he said. "But it's quite important that we don't want to become an OEM. We want to support them."
Benteler, based in Paderborn, Germany, ranks No. 34 on the Automotive News Europe list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide sales to automakers of $8.1 billion in 2018. It is a division of Benteler International, a family-owned holding company based in Salzburg, Austria.
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