Why is the Foxconn announcement so interesting?

Like many young engineers, I wanted to build my own road car. I began to plan out how much it would cost, where I would buy parts, what would I use as a donor vehicle, how would I manufacture the bodywork and especially and most importantly: what engine would I use?!

I didn’t just want to make just another kit car, it had to be scaleable with my own engine. And that’s where I ran into trouble. If you look at most low volume specialist cars today they use an engine from one of the top OEM’s, for example Lotus uses Toyota engines.

This makes the internal combustion engine an important part of an OEM’s differentiation in the market and a large barrier to entry for new would be manufacturers.  The shear number of requirements for the development of an internal combustion engine today is enormous: €500m would be a good round number to start with in the bank!

But what happens when the internal combustion engine is removed from the equation as with an electric car? Electric motors have existed for over 100 years and they are in almost every common house hold device from a fridges to an air conditioner.  The old barrier to market entry is reduced by a large margin.  The design of a vehicle, although complicated and complex, it is not too dissimilar to designing a modern high end SMART Phone.  It is still difficult, but not an insurmountable challenge and many large companies would be very capable.

This change in the market will allow new entrants and possibly the disruptive change in the automotive industry perhaps to the same level as other industries that are described in great detail in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma.  The recent announcement by Foxconn is an interesting move by one of the world’s largest manufacturers and it could be the start of more movements by Apple, Google and others into one of the oldest markets in the world: transportation.

With the added innovations through driverless capabilities maybe the new entrants change the market as fast as SMART phones did in the mobile market?  Initially we don’t think this is likely just because of the higher capital intensity of a car compared to a phone and the shear number of vehicles that would have to be replaced throughout the world.  But with 80m vehicles being produced every year, it is not unfathomable that new competitors could make a dent in urban markets in the Mega-Cities of the world.

Our belief is that transportation will develop in a trajectory driven by Urbanisation: this is well described in Frost and Sullivan’s Mega-Trends study.   The resultant changes in the industry will move towards mobility becoming a service: i.e. Mobility as a Service.  At this point it is highly possible that vehicles become a set of “devices” on a network integrated by overall mobility integrators: similar to the telecoms integrators such as Vodafone and Telefonica.  These mobility integrators will operate different devices on the network which could be provided by existing and incoming device manufacturers such as Foxconn.

Is this move by Foxconn just the start of something far larger?  We think so and have been working on Integrated Transportation studies with the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University in a Technology Strategy Board sponsored feasibility study in Oxford, UK, called the Oxford Transport Laboratory. click here

The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China's Beijing Mega-City
The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China’s Mega-City Beijing
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Race to the future

A year from now, climate negotiators representing countries worldwide will be in Paris. They hope to finalise international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Success will depend heavily on economic policy, and the new technologies to usher in a carbon light world.

“Unlike treaties of the past, the Paris agreement needs to speak as loudly of economic transformation as it does of carbon emissions targets,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. The Bank wants new clean technology investments. It wants energy efficiency, performance standards for vehicles and clear economic remit for change.

Motorsport seems an unlikely partner in all this. But the silent technologies being developed in Formula E are ideally placed to put the Bank’s vision on the ground. The Formula, a hotbed for excitement and intrigue, is also a key testing space for sustainable batteries, systems and futurist thinking.

Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014
Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014

“The future I see is for energy companies to become energy carriers,” says Preston. He has 12 years top level motorsport experience with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri F1 teams. Electric motors and reimagined transport are central to his vision. It involves carbon-light urban mobility in the cities of tomorrow.

“Fuel, batteries, hydrogen; they are all just carriers of energy. The energy is just stored in a number of different forms. Each has relevance to future transportation and we are working on all within SAFE Racing Technologies, our technology company that support the Amlin Aguri Formula E racing team.”

Finding more reliable energy storage is key. Preston believes legislation is a strong force to help. “If one mega city in China changed its rules to have zero emissions in the city, this could support three new, sustainable electric car companies, all using futurist batteries and storage tech.” he says.

“I think one of the reasons this hasn’t started yet is because the local companies are not quite there with the technology, so the government won’t start until the local companies can support. This is where Formula E comes in.” Motorsports has traditionally driven development in clutches or computer controlled suspension. Now it provides a testbed for advanced EV technologies.

“Once one city does EV successfully, it is possible to start a snowball effect with cities such as Los Angeles perhaps trying again; they tried in the 90s if I recall,” says Preston. In another shift in sustainable thinking, he explains how Formula E is exploring parallels between energy and cloud-based computer systems.

“When software is based in the cloud, individual upgrades in server speeds or software tweaks see all users on the system benefiting immediately,” he begins.

“I think the same could be true of our electrical grid. Today we have coal fired powerstations, but as soon as one of them is upgraded the whole system would be simultaneously. The concept is the ‘Energy Cloud,’ as some people are beginning to call it.

“As more renewables come online, this energy cloud is naturally and automatically upgraded. When more energy carriers connect to the smart grid, and electric cars plug in, the intermittent nature of some renewables is dealt with automatically by the Smart Energy Cloud.”

In this way, cohesive cloud systems could alleviate shortfalls in solar or wind power through scale. “Some more radical ideas could be carbon sequestration at the source of the power generation,” Preston continues.

Returning to the Formula E circuit, he hopes to see static batteries, ready at each race track one month before the race. These would be charged using solar and other renewables, from the smart energy cloud ready for use on race day.

“After the race they would be used for legacy projects; emergency power backup systems for hospital and schools. Cars need only be one part of the modal mix. The design will have longevity. I see Formula E providing a showcase for technology to encourage early adoption of new ideas by making the technology cool and relevant.”

Such Formula E technology might feature in tomorrow’s cars, trains or buses, depending on market dynamics. Preston points out that F1 flywheel technology is finding its way into buses at the moment. “Routes to market can take different paths. Formula E will develop technologies to push overall electrification of the transport industry.”

Widespread takeup for EV may well need direct wireless charging, which Preston discussed at a recent sustainable transport forum in Cologne. “Many bus projects are up and running where a bus will charge at every stop on its journey, effectively giving it limitless range using an electric drivetrain.

“Formula E is developing battery charging, packaging and programming of usage patterns. We are set to  really showcase what a cool and interesting thing electrification of vehicles is.”

Jim Yong Kim believes decarbonising energy sectors over time, while maintaining energy required for development constitutes a challenge no developed country has faced in its history.

“Getting to net zero emissions before 2100 will require a continuing shift in the direction of our energy portfolio, to support energy access for all and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

“It will require continued support for clean transportation and building low-carbon, livable cities, particularly in the fast-growing cities of the developing world, where development today will lock in growth patterns for decades to come.”

Such green transportation may seem light years from the race tracks of Putrajaya or Uruguay. But perhaps, as electric race cars whizz quietly around, the answers are coming.

Betting on Electric

I have re-posted my Blog article from Huffington Post here to add a few more comments after speaking at a few more events recently.  I was very interested in how many students at Oxford and Cambridge were interested in our vision for the future, what did we think would happen next, how will it effect their futures.

Thinking on it since, if I was leaving University in the next few years and wanted to work in an industry with longevity which was looking to change the world, then I would have to think long and hard.  Even if I look at some of the long term predictions for fossil fuel which have it dominating automotive for at least the next 20-30 years, at current graduate would only be in the middle of their careers by then, which means that what ever I bet on now should carry me a long way.  Which way would i bet on the future?

Betting on Electric by Mark Preston

When I was a student engineer I wanted to build my own road car. I planned out how much it would cost, where I would buy parts, what would I use as a donor vehicle, how would I manufacture the bodywork and most importantly: what engine would I use? I didn’t want to make just another kit car, it had to be scalable, and with my own engine. And that’s where I ran into trouble.

If you look at most low volume specialist cars today they have to use an engine from one of the top Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs): for example Lotus uses Toyota engines in their cars. This makes the Internal Combustion Engine an important part of an OEM’s differentiation in the market and a large barrier to entry for new would-be manufacturers. The sheer number of requirements for the development of a new internal combustion engine today is enormous: €500m would be a good round number to start with!

But what happens when the internal combustion engine is removed from the equation? Which is the case with an electric car. Electric motors have existed for over 100 years and they are in almost every common household device from a fridge to an air conditioner. The barrier to market entry is suddenly reduced considerably and allows a whole range of possibilities. The design of an electric vehicle, although complicated and complex, is not too dissimilar to designing a modern high end smartphone. It is still difficult, but not an insurmountable challenge. Many large companies would be very capable of designing and manufacturing an electric vehicle with the help of any number of large engineering companies that exist.

The innovation to drive the electric Powertrain development and concepts such as wireless charging will come from one of the newest motorsports in the world, the FIA Electric Vehicles Series: Formula E. Our team, Amlin Aguri, had its first race in Beijing this year and we believe that Formula E will help to revolutionise the technology required to drive development in the road going world.

2014-10-14-AmlinAguriBeijing.jpg
Amlin Aguri in Beijing for the first FIA electric car race.

The change brought about by Foxconn’s investment in the market, and the advent of new competitive motorsport arenas, to push development will create new entrants and possibly the disruptive change in the automotive industry to the same level as other industries that are described in great detail in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. The recent announcement by Foxconn is an interesting example of the future of the world’s largest manufacturers and it could be the start of more movements by Apple, Google and others into one of the oldest markets in the world: transportation. The Chinese government has stated in the past that strategically there is no reason for home grown car companies to develop ICEs; it would be better to leapfrog to full EV where the playing field is much more equal.

With the added innovations through driverless capabilities, like new driverless buses, maybe the new innovators will change the market as fast as smartphones did in the mobile market. Initially rapid change is unlikely because of the higher capital intensity of a car, compared to a phone, and the sheer number of vehicles that would have to be replaced throughout the world. But with 80 million vehicles being produced every year, it is not unfathomable that new competitors could make a dent in urban markets in the megacities of the world.

Switching to EVs helps to alleviate the pollution problem in urban centres, though it doesn’t remove the congestion. As part of a recent study I carried out in Oxford, UK, which involved the University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University and the County Council, we looked at the problems of capacity in a small city with only five main roads entering the city centre. The photo below illustrates that, by running higher density of people, in this case with buses or bicycles, the capacity of the arteries is increased.

2014-10-14-Trafficdensity.jpg
Density of travel for the 70 people using cars, buses, bicycles and walking.

Therefore the trajectory of development in transportation will be driven by urbanisation, especially in megacities of the world which have the populations and hence the spending power to make real changes. The concept is well described in Frost and Sullivan’s Mega­Trends study. The resultant changes in the industry will move towards mobility becoming a service: i.e. mobility as a Service. At this point it is highly possible that vehicles become a set of “devices” on a network integrated by overall systems integrators: similar to the telecoms integrators such as Vodafone and Telefonica. These vehicle systems integrators will operate different devices on the network that could be provided by existing and incoming device manufacturers – such as Foxconn or Google.

Is the move by Foxconn technology group to invest heavily in electric vehicles in China just the start of something far larger? We at Amlin Aguri think so.

Mark Preston is the Team Principal of Formula E racing team: Amlin Aguri.

Mark will be speaking at “Eco Machines: Designing the Cars of the Future” hosted by Intelligence Squared and Shell at Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge on October 21st 2014.

Oxford Consortium Wins TSB Integrated Transportation Call

Technology Strategy Board: Integrated Transport – In Field Solutions
Project: Oxford Transport Laboratory

Benefiting people and business

The benefits of creating smarter, connected cities are clear – increased economic growth and better visitor experience whilst reducing environmental impact. Funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Oxford is embarking on an ambitious project to improve the experience of visiting the City by creating open systems, processes and technologies that will benefit visitors, residents and  businesses alike.

Driven by Innovation

The most important aspect of this project will be the harmonisation of the data and technologies that currently exist but remain locked into the business and government systems. Our ability to provide this data for the use of all stakeholders will be of critical importance in ensuring the continued growth of Oxford as a commercial, educational and employment centre.

This project will propose ways for Oxford to increase its economic viability for every stakeholder in the city – an improvement in traffic management, parking, increased visitor numbers, increased retail spend by visitors and better communication around mobility within the ring road are key objectives.

We also have an important job to do – limiting the impact of the closure of the Westgate centre and car park. Redevelopment plans mean that in January 2015 Oxford centre will lose 800 of it’s existing 2,000 car parking spaces, placing additional burdens on all areas of the transport system. As a result there is considerable risk of reduced income to retailers and businesses.

This initial 3 month project will provide clear analysis and recommendations as to how Oxford should approach these challenges, in both the short and longer terms. Innovation with technology, data and smart processes will be at heart of our recommendations, and will provide a platform for the development of an open system to the benefit of all.

Mobility, Communication, Partnerships

We already have a significant amount of data showing the way that people move in and around Oxford, and we are putting in significant efforts to analyse this data. However this project will go further than simply looking at traffic and transportation solutions. We recognise that to be successful, Oxford must also engage with people and businesses.

The key partners that will form part of the Oxford study bring a wide and varied experience – chipset providers and other technology providers, companies that run public transport, retailers, University and Local Authorities. We will cover all aspects that a smart city should provide to its visitors and residents..

The start of the journey

We are still at the formative stages of the Oxford project, focusing on understanding the main challenges that the city faces, analysing the data we have around transport and the movement of people in and around the city and establishing relationships with key companies and organisations.

 

About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency.  Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.  Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit www.innovateuk.org.

About Preston Motorsport

Preston Motorsport was formed in 2005 by Mark Preston who wanted to create a company which used motorsports DNA to support the wider industry to create real disruptive innovation.  Preston Motorsports first worked with the Super Aguri team when it supported the entry into Formula 1 team, competing in the World Championship from 2006 to 2008. Their new partnership will see Super Aguri Formula E team compete in the FIA Formula E Championship for low emission cars, racing on 10 tracks across the globe commencing in September 2014.

Preston said, “it became obvious to us a few years ago that the future of transportation was not going to centre around cars as it has done for the last few decades, there will be a disruptive shift in how we live, travel and interact with transportation devices.  We believe strongly that the future will be “Mobility as a Service”.  We began working on this project in after a trip to San Francisco looking at innovation and ideas surrounding the future of automotive and came up with this proposal for Oxford.  We have a great set of partners who we believe will deliver exciting new ideas that can be rolled out to the world.”

http://www.prestonracing.com

About Oxford County Council

Working on this TSB project has enabled the County Council as Transport Authority to  form a consortium with Businesses and the Universities creating opportunities for the Council to lead, influence, and gain funding for innovative transport solutions.  The County Council will provide access to a variety of real-time and historical datasets sourced from the private and public sector. Creating business opportunities and encouraging SME to grow in Oxfordshire and the South East by allowing developers and other stakeholders to use the data they need to build applications and services for the benefit of transport users and beyond. Oxfordshire County Council is designing an  Innovation Support Programme which will provide a web portal with information about local and national business support services, linking up growing services and provide support and funding to the innovators , investors and entrepreneurs involved in the county’s innovation eco-system.

About DBi (Elisa Interactive Ltd)

DBi is one of Europe’s leading data and marketing technology consultancies, and was recently acquired by Havas Media Group in an effort to increase their global footprint in the space. Our focus is on the optimising technology and data that drives business insights and growth, and enabling companies to become smarter.

The Oxford project gives us the opportunity to work with a city, rather than with brands, however the objective for us is the same – how to make Oxford smarter through the use of data and technology. We incredibly excited to be part of making this happen.

About Zeta Automotive

Zeta Automotive, formed 25 years ago is a highly innovative electronic development company. With several awards for innovative technology, Zeta is a Tier one supplier to the motor industry.  Arriva PLC recently acquired a majority stake in Zeta having approved one of its latest products for roll out across its fleet of buses.  Arriva is one of the largest transport services organisations in Europe.

About The University of Oxford

The Transport Studies Unit (TSU) (http://www.tsu.ox.ac.uk) is an interdisciplinary research centre based at University of Oxford. Over the past 40 years the TSU has established an international research reputation in the fields of transport policy analysis, mobility and travel behaviour research, and the development of new methodologies and tools. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the social, economic, environmental and health implications of transport and mobility over both time and space. The TSU’s work ranges in geographic scale from the local to the global, and the full spectrum of quantitative and qualitative research techniques is deployed.

David Banister, Director and Professor of Transport Studies, said: “Transport is a topic that impacts on all of us and it substantially influences the way in which we see the world and interact with it. Transport is also of great importance to economic wellbeing and the social participation of individuals and communities, in particular in mixed-use, urban areas such as Oxford.”

The Energy & Power Group (EPG) in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford undertakes computational and experimental sustainable energy research with particular focus onsmart energy systems, energy storage, transport and electrical machines. It has a strong record of commercialising the research activity and has lead to three spin out companies.

Malcolm McCulloch, Head of the Energy and Power Group, said “This opportunity can enable the City of Oxford to pioneer an exciting integrated mobility system that improves the experience of travelling into the City and reduces the net carbon footprint.”

About Oxford Brookes University

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences provides a range of professionally accredited mechanical, automotive, motorsport, mathematical and statistical programmes of study. Our focus is to provide world class, high quality teaching and applied research so as to give our students an excellent experience.

 

Formtech launches the E1 research concept EV

Formtech created a vision of EV when they launched the E1 atFrankfurt’s IAA Motorshow in September.  The research study provides the base for a number of concepts in lightweighting technology using composites, high-end materials and machining.

Formtech’s EV started out as a concept for the companies CEO Franz Hilmer, “I wanted to develop a car that would provide me with a second vehicle that I can use to commute to work, but be stylish and provide the basis to exploit the technologies that Formtech is developing in lightweight materials, high-end precision manufacturing and other technologies.”

Designers: Satoshi Nakamura, Tomas Beres, and Rafael Gross, were given the brief to develop a number of concepts, “The chosen concept of the E1 came from the idea that a secondary car; where the customer already owns a vehicle, and considering an eco-friendly alternative especially designed for short commute, with the capacity to carry 4 passengers, should be simple and take full advantage of the electric drive train. The limited top speed and range will create a lighter, more efficient vehicle, perfect for a second car. The design features a short overhang at both ends to create maximum capacity within the given wheelbase dimension. The side surface wraps around to the front and rear end, creating a sense of security and strength to the overall form. “, said Nakamura.

“The future of EV’s will be based around a number of game changing technologies”, says Mark Preston, ex-F1 designer, “I forsee a change in the way EV’s are perceived with lightweight carbon composites and vehicle dynamics technology such as torque vectoring driving exciting new areas of customer interest.  We created the research study in order to create a platform from which Formtech can develop these new technologies and provide solutions for all areas of EV development”.

The Formtech E1 forms the basis of further development studies by Formtech into the exciting new area of EV’s.  Further studies will be released from Formtech that follow up on the beginnings created with the E1.  “Formtech is committed to working towards the future and welcomes discussions with interested companies and investors from the green sector“, says Hilmer.