CES 2021: Magna Execs Warn of Impending EV Complexities

The growing mix of architectures, motor specs, power levels and drivelines presents challenges to suppliers and OEMs.

Magna is fortifying its technology portfolio both internally and through alliances to put the company among the leaders in electrification. Shown is an EV propulsion systems demonstrator during a recent winter test session. (Magna)

The industry’s transition to electrified, and ultimately fully electric, vehicles is bringing far greater complexity in product development and technology-management overall, according to Magna Powertrain executives, speaking in an online media session during the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

New executive VP Sherif Marakby is one of the industry’s most experienced Electrification experts. (Keith Tolman/VIS)

Magna’s traditional strengths in lightweight structures, driver-assistance sensor technologies, active aerodynamic systems, powertrain/drivelines and full-vehicle assembly serve as the foundation for the company as it moves further into vehicle electrification and automated-driving solutions, noted Sherif Marakby, the company’s recently hired executive VP. Markaby is a veteran leader of Ford’s hybrid and EV programs and headed the automaker’s Team Edison autonomous R&D group before joining Magna.

But even global Tier-1 suppliers can’t go it alone: “Partnerships are very critical,” Marakby told the CES audience, briefly noting Magna’s current strategic relationships with LG (e-motors, inverters, batteries), Innoviz Technologies (lidar) and Uhnder (digital radar), and China’s HASCO (e-drive systems). Even with the alliances, however, the market’s shift from today’s combustion-engine predominance to a fully electric future presents significant challenges for engineers at all levels, indicated Ron Frawley, head of strategy for Magna’s Powertrain Group.

Magna’s recent joint venture with LG builds on the supplier’s own development of advanced electric drives. This automotive integrated electric motor/drive rated at 125 kW peak power was developed in partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The development target was to deliver eight times the power density and half the cost of existing motors. (Magna)

“The ‘traditional’ powertrain market [as of 2021] has eight to 10 basic powertrain configurations,” Frawley noted, with the total of engine/transmission combinations declining due to air-quality regulations worldwide. He cited a Magna forecast for 2030 in which the total slice of electrified systems is expected to be over 50% of the powertrain mix. Most of that will be hybrids of various types; full-EVs will be 12-16% of the mix. Non-hybridized ICEs will still represent about 23% of powertrains in 2030, according to Magna.

This protracted and costly transition “brings a lot of complexity and proliferation into the picture,” Frawley explained. It starts with architectures to support plug-in hybrid, hybrid-electric and electric vehicles, on top of the surviving legacy architectures. Added to that are e-motors “in a wide variety of power classes.” Magna is getting requests from OEMs for power levels from 15 kW up to 300 kW, with operating voltages from 48V to 800V. The motors can be positioned in five different places on the vehicle, from the accessory drive (BSG) to an electrified axle or even a wheel-end drive.

Magna is seeing as many as 40 additional powertrain configurations being requested by its OEM customers, said Ron Frawley, head of powertrain strategy. (Magna)

“The advent of electric all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive come into play as well,” he said. “This means that many vehicles on the road will have more than one e-motor and more than one inverter. And more than one electric powertrain system within the vehicle. A lot of complexity is being added.” Magna is seeing “as many as 40 additional powertrain configurations that are being asked of us by our OEM customers.”

Frawley asserted that e-motors and inverters play a significant role in the economics of electric powertrain systems, with the two components delivering “as much as 70% of the value-add” in an e-drive system, he said.