RALF STORY JEREMY CHUA PHOTO VERONICA TAY ART DIRECTION SEAN LEE LENNINGER
HEAD OF INTELLIGENT TRANSPORT SYSTEMS BUSINESS UNIT CONTINENTAL
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.