Continental's previous hybrid solutions failed to win over automakers because they were too "exotic," the supplier's powertrain boss, Jose Avila, said.
The company responded by teaming up with Schaeffler to create a mild hybrid based on 48-volt technology. The affordable, easy-to-adapt solution, which Continental says improves fuel economy by 20 percent, debuted in Europe on Renault's new Scenic and Grand Scenic minivans late last year. Continental predicts global production of 48-volt hybrids will rise to 4 million by 2020 and 25 million by 2030.
Avila, 61, talked about the technology with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.
Why did Continental enter the 48-volt hybrid sector?
A few years ago we were struggling with the fact that we invested a lot in electrification and hybridization, and somehow the end products were seen as exotic, low-volume solutions. Therefore, we decided to invest in affordable hybridization. I think it was a good bet that we took.
The goal was to create something for high-volume vehicles, right?
Continental's motivation after doing all these sort of low-volume hybridization exercises was to get on a vehicle where you have high volume.
Describe your 48-volt system.
It is a mild hybrid. It stores energy. It gives energy back. It provides nearly all the functionality of a full hybrid.
How long will it take for the system to become profitable?
We have business on three continents, and we are adding production lines on all three.
I hope that by around 2019 the volumes are respectable and show a tendency to continue to grow.
But you don't want to go as far as saying profitable, right?
The issue is that you're investing a lot in product lines. We don't report by product line. But the lines that are fully utilized definitely should be producing economically decent margins.
When will demand stabilize?
Somewhere around 2020 and 2021, hybrid and full-electric vehicles will be growing but they will stabilize. The customers won't be looking to keep revolutionizing this solution. Hopefully, we can then reach a sweet spot with the technologies, and then you can produce the same base platform for several years.