Car brands buy in nuts, bollts — and very clever tech. John Carey rates an outstanding German supplier
CAR makers don’t deserve all of the credit they get for innovation. Most people believe the company that stuck the badges on the nose and tail thought of everything in between, but this isn’t the case.
Quite often the smartest new stuff was brainstormed by the likes of German component supplier Continental.
More than half of what you pay for when buying a new car was made by component suppliers — by value, their products can account for about 70 per cent or more of what a car cost to make.
Major suppliers employ more people and make more money than some car brands. Continental, for example, has more than 220,000 employees worldwide and its sales last year totalled about $60 billion.
Anyone who has heard of Continental knows that it makes tyres. But round rubber things account for just a quarter of its global business — its four other divisions supply parts as simple as plastic hoses or as complex as the sensors and computing devices needed to make a self-driving car.
To keep its car-making customers coming back for more, Continental needs to keep coming up with fresh ideas. And some of its latest, among the many displayed at its recent Tech Show 2017 in Hanover, Germany, are wild.
Its boffins have virtually reinvented the wheel, figured out how to do great car audio without speakers and have an idea that will make electric vehicles more affordable and more useful. When you see these technologies make it into production, you’ll know who really deserves the credit …
Great sound with no speakers? Sounds mad but the sound quality in a current MercedesBenz C-Class equipped with a prototype Speakerless Audio system was brilliant.
“Everything you have heard is an excited surface,” explains Continental engineer Jens Friedrich after the impressive demonstration.
What this means, in plain language, is that the audio setup uses tiny vibrating actuators to make parts of the car itself vibrate. Instead of conventional speaker cones, Speakerless Audio uses the windscreen pillar covers, dashboard, roof and front seat backs to produce richly detailed and totally immersive sound.
Friedrich says Speakerless Audio saves weight and space. Fewer actuators are needed compared to conventional speakers, too. Cost reductions are also possible.
And the technology also promises greater freedom for car interior designers, who would no longer have to make space for speakers in door trims and other places.
As Australia continues to ignore electric cars, Europe continues to find ways to make them better. AllCharge makes it possible to hook an electric car up to any kind of charging station; high-speed direct current, single or three-phase alternating current. It’s designed to handle the most powerful recharge stations under development, which will be capable of delivering enough energy to drive 150km in just five minutes.
The brilliance of AllCharge is that it delivers great recharging flexibility for the electric vehicle driver, without an onboard recharger. The recharger is a bottleneck, putting a limit on the current the car can accept.
Continental’s idea is to give dual purpose to components already in place in an electric vehicle to handle regenerative braking, particularly by boosting the performance of the inverter and enabling the vehicle to draw the maximum charge a station can deliver.
Making the on-board recharger redundant has the potential to cut costs too.
Another bonus with AllCharge is that it’s reversible. It’s no problem at all to provide an output plug to deliver power at any country’s standard domestic AC voltage and frequency, Continental’s engineers say.
We’re excited: Continental makes parts of the cabin vibrate in lieu of audio speakers; it’s also looking at super-quick charging