Torque (Singapore) - - NEWS -

UN­LESS you’ve been liv­ing un­der a rock, you’ve prob­a­bly heard that the days of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine are num­bered, and that the dawn of driver­less cars is upon us.

But be­fore that age ar­rives, what should we make of the petrol-elec­tric hy­brids and clean-diesel tech­nolo­gies that car­mak­ers are in­tro­duc­ing?

If you ask Ralf Lenninger, he will prob­a­bly say that these tech­nolo­gies are mar­keted as a stop-gap mea­sure, but that the ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion, which is au­ton­o­mous elec­tric ve­hi­cles, is now clear. When we spoke to Ralf last year, the 57-year-old was the se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Con­ti­nen­tal’s In­te­rior Elec­tron­ics So­lu­tions di­vi­sion. This year, he has taken on the new role of head­ing up the firm’s In­tel­li­gent Trans­port Sys­tems Busi­ness Unit. Ralf sat down with Torque to dis­cuss the chal­lenges fac­ing the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try as the world moves to­wards elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, and tells us why he is in favour of tech­no­log­i­cal progress de­spite his love for cars. How do you see trans­porta­tion evolv­ing? The mo­bil­ity in­dus­try will sig­nif­i­cantly trans­form three things: From com­bus­tion to elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, man­ual driv­ing to au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and from be­ing un­con­nected to con­nected.

When this trio fi­nally comes to­gether, we will have emis­sions­free, driver­less and fully con­nected au­to­mo­biles. In broad terms, what is the chal­lenge in cre­at­ing an au­ton­o­mous elec­tric car? Mak­ing the tech­nol­ogy isn’t dif­fi­cult. The ac­tual chal­lenge is mak­ing the tech­nol­ogy work 100 per­cent of the time.

From my meet­ings with Sil­i­con Val­ley tech firms, I learnt that these folks pri­ori­tise speed over per­fec­tion. But for a car com­pany, per­fec­tion mat­ters more than speed. Imag­ine your brakes sud­denly not work­ing, and you get a mes­sage say­ing: “Please call your help desk for as­sis­tance.” Will the fallout from Diesel­gate has­ten the end of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine? Yes. Three or four years ago, car­mak­ers were say­ing that the elec­tric tech­nol­ogy wasn’t ready. But now, you have brands like Volvo claim­ing that all their cars will be hy­brids or elec­tri­cally pow­ered af­ter 2019. But what about the is­sues re­gard­ing the lack of charg­ing sta­tions, lim­ited range and long recharg­ing times? When the first cars were built, petrol sta­tions did not ex­ist. It took time for them to be­come wide­spread. As more cars were man­u­fac­tured, more petrol kiosks ap­peared. This is a prin­ci­ple of eco­nom­ics – if there is a de­mand, that de­mand will be ful­filled. So if more elec­tric cars are pro­duced and pur­chased, the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing charg­ing sta­tions will be­gin tak­ing off. So you don’t mind in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines be­com­ing ex­tinct? Well, all prod­ucts have a life cy­cle. There is no prod­uct in the world that lasts for­ever. New tech­nol­ogy will al­ways re­place old tech­nol­ogy. I think this is quite nor­mal. But peo­ple can be emo­tional in try­ing to pro­tect the com­bus­tion en­gine.

Car man­u­fac­tur­ers are in the busi­ness of sell­ing cars, and they can tell you that to most con­sumers, it does not mat­ter what en­gine is in a car.

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