Ford’s Top EV Engineer Advocates More Inclusive Charging Tech

Ford Director of Electrified Powertrain Engineering, Kevin Layden, presented the challenges of moving hybrids and EVs into the vehicle mainstream during the SAE symposium. (Lindsay Brooke)

Making electrified vehicles mainstream across all segments, while facing significant cost challenges, ever-tightening regulations, and an often fickle consumer, will continue to be a daunting task for the industry, admitted Kevin Layden, Ford’s Director of Electrified Powertrain Engineering, as he kicked off the 12th annual SAE Hybrid and EV Technologies Symposium, held Feb. 10-12 in Los Angeles.

In his presentation, “The Strategic Outlook for Electrification,” the frank-speaking Layden told the event’s 260 attendees, “It’s our job as engineers to make vehicle electrification part of the fabric of the world—and I’m confident that will happen.”

He called the task of CO2 reduction “maybe the greatest technical challenge the industry and SAE have ever faced,” while noting the progress made since 2003, the year of the first SAE Hybrids conference. In that time, the number of hybrid and EV production vehicles has risen from just the original Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, to over 100 nameplates available in North America in 2015.

But overall market share remains a small fraction of the overall new-vehicle fleet, and most forecasts put the electrified share in the low single digits by 2020. Part of the problem is “the industry has yet to get customers comfortable with EVs,” Layden asserted.

While automakers have collected literally millions of miles’ worth of ownership and technical data on hybrids over 15 years, engineers and product planners need the voice of the customer more than ever going forward.

“We’re going to have to figure out exactly what the customer wants in order to drive cost and risk out of electrified systems, reducing the delta versus their conventional counterparts,” Layden said. This will help development teams determine, for example, “exactly how much battery do I really need to put in a vehicle.”

Layden called SAE International “instrumental in democratizing technology, which drives cost down,” and he gave examples of Ford’s standardization of component and systems technology across its global hybrid and EV vehicle platforms. And he called for the industry to support a single battery-charging standard and hardware for PHEVs and EVs.

“If we can’t get behind one standard, we take away a reason to buy an EV. It’s not clear what charging standard the U.S. will have, for example. Will we expect your local Walgreens to have multiple charge plugs available? There’s no excuse to not have a world-class common charging standard,” Layden said.

During the panel discussion on Feb. 12, Layden scolded Tesla Motors for its decision to essentially go its own way by producing and installing the company’s proprietary “Supercharger” charging stands, after the company participated in the SAE Standards Task Force to establish the J1772 standard.

“I wish they would have put their weight behind the SAE Combo Connector,” he told the audience.