The future of Electric Vehicles: less is better
The Mercedes EQXX is a strong signal to the market of what we can expect from EVs in the middle of this decade. With the EQXX, my former McLaren colleague Ola Kallenius, and his team have signalled that less isn’t more, but how less can be better.
Inside the automotive industry the currency of product planning and vehicle engineering development over the last 50 years has been superior performance. It is a game of top trumps, where the OEMs try to stamp their superior engineering authority over their closest rival by developing vehicles with performance figures that grab the headlines and garner column inches. In the realm of the internal combustion engine vehicle this was based on horsepower, capacity and top speed — where the highest = best.
With the EQXX, Mercedes is redefining that currency. It’s still a game of top trumps, but one based on efficiency, where the determinants of success and superiority — battery capacity, frontal area, drag, weight etc. — are defined by the lowest = the best. This is the engineering philosophy of my former boss, Gordon Murray, who drilled into me as a young product planner at McLaren that less isn’t more, but less is better. So much of what Gordon has done throughout his career, and continues to do with the T50, is embodied in the EQXX.
So, what can we expect in our EVs in the near future, and what does the EQXX signal? As a career long automotive product planner, here are some of my reflections:
#Longtail — the EQXX signals an important evolution in the form of the sedan body type and how an extreme focus on aerodynamics will reshape the overall three box design, with a strong emphasis on laminar flow and reattachment over the rear with a longtail design
#DRG — the down road graphic, aka the front face, of the car will evolve further, as the frontal area shrinks, lights form part of the surfacing of the body, with active cooling ducts and even the humble badge become integrated into the front face of the vehicle
[Sam Livingstone and his team at Car Design Research will have a lot more/better insight on these than me.]
#Activecooling– one of the biggest weight wins is to dump the liquid cooling of the battery pack (as we’ve done with the ZipCharge Go). This creates other problems, notably thermal management of the cells, but active air cooling (to balance aero and cooling requirements) and a massive great heat sink at the bottom of the car help to solve that problem.
#Smallerbatteries — my old friend and Mazda colleague Stefan Meisterfeld asked me recently for my view on the future evolution of battery pack size. He was surprised when I said they would get smaller, not bigger. As cells become more energy dense, we will see the pack size plateau at around 90–100kWh for large premium vehicles, and then actually reduce in weight and capacity towards the end of the decade as Li-Ion cells increase in energy density
#Slowerfastcharging — people won’t like this, but do we need 350kW charging with significant range improvements given increases in efficiency and energy density? A trade-off of air cooling is managing the thermal stability of the cell during fast charge. It’s also a big factor with Silicon anodes to prevent the formation of dendrites that can lead to a thermal runaway. Expect slower fast charging capability as cell performance and silicon doping increases.
#Definedbynature — expect to see more nature inside and outside future EVs, not just the form factor, but how components are engineered for lightweight, optimised for structural integrity and design requirements, while removing material.
#Integratedsystems — we will see far more development of integrated drive systems (motor, inverter, gearbox etc.) as with Tesla, Lucid and the EQXX. This will extend to the battery pack, with structural battery packs (including the heat sink for cooling), that drives out complexity of integration, replacing it with complexity of manufacturing achieved through casting, sintering and 3D printing.
#Efficiencyofinformation — the efficiency of systems is a theme that runs throughout the EQXX, but getting the right information to the driver and occupants, based on their preference, mood, requirements, driving style and destination (along with a myriad of other inputs) will be a core theme. In a world of digital overload, systems will become far more selective of the information provided, with greater intelligence, automation and individualisation