'Transitioning to electric vehicles has to be like a team sport': Paul Farrell
Paul Farrell, the Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of component supplier BorgWarner tells Autocar Professional how the company is focusing more intensely on the implementation of strategies for the electrification of mobility and the reduction of global CO2 emissions.
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On The investor Relations Day in June this year, BorgWarner unveiled the updated version of its ‘Charging Forward’ programme called ‘Charging Forward 2027.’ At the recently concluded IAA 2023 event in Germany, the Tier I auto component supplier demonstrated its intentions in the flesh and showcased the latest generation of silicon carbide (SiC) inverters as it aims to strengthen its position as one of the global market leaders for high voltage (800 v) systems for EVs. The inverters, featuring the patented Viper module, enable better driving performance, longer battery ranges and shorter charging times, claims the company.
As part of the company’s sustainability focus, BorgWarner also presented thermal management solutions for electric vehicles, like eCoolers, eFans, high voltage heaters as well as charging stations, battery packs, power electronics and drivetrain systems at the show. Engineered for maximum safety, the eCooler technology is used to cool batteries with various cell types as well as power electronics. The technology supports highly effective heat dissipation, extending performance and furthering the service life of batteries and electronic components.
In addition, a range of stationary DC fast charging stations, a product line which is being continuously expanded by BorgWarner was also on display. At the show, company representatives offered an update on the progress made with the Charging Forward initiative and the recently unveiled Charging Forward 2027 strategy and explained the current and future objectives of the company’s electrification strategy.
In an interview with Autocar Professional, Paul Farrell the Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of BorgWarner spoke about the critical role of localisation and building products to accelerate the shift towards future zero emission technology in a market like India. He also said that the local R&D centre in Bengaluru, India is also evolving its capabilities to transition to appropriate technology.
What is BorgWarner’s view on electrification and the pace of adoption in different markets?
We're really leaning into the electrification narrative; we called it charging forward. It was really a hard pivot toward battery electric vehicles. We started about two and half years ago, at the time, we looked at the growth curves, we looked at market predictions. We asked, where is the EV going? We did that two-and-a-half years ago and since the market has accelerated forward. It's even a steeper growth curve now.
It is faster than we expected. So, we feel like that time we made the right decision to move towards EVs. The story plays out differently in every country really, and it's based on regulations, you know, regulations can have, the carrot-and-stick impact, right? So sometimes it's incentives that pull customers toward the EV.
Most markets are now shifting their resources on the electrification front. It varies from market to market. China is shifting a little away from the subsidy driven model as it is about to reach a tipping point, the momentum is there to grow (without incentives). Whenever there is a big change, there will always be a supply demand imbalance. In the US, a year ago, there was a huge demand, but there was no supply, now the supply is here, demand hasn’t caught up with it.
The dynamics are really different depending on the country, but overall, for us, we're able to meet the customer's cost demands on the products. So, we see really strong growth in these electrification products, because we're able to hit the cost targets, win the award and then go fulfil that at scale. That's something we're really good at. Being global and having the operational excellence to ramp up the volume scale to meet what the customers need. At the moment, the story is can you make it fast enough for the market.
There are reports of two million unsold EVs in North America, a price war in China, dropped incentives in Germany that's slowing down the adoption. The inflection point in India is expected later. How is BorgWarner planning this?
I don’t have a number (for the US), but I think self-charging has to come along. So I don’t think it’s a question necessarily around if the transition is happening but it could be around the pace and I’m sure it will be some ebbs and flows based around those supply demand imbalances. India is probably not moving as quickly as China. I was there in August and am quite impressed with the pace of change there. But I think that from a BorgWarner perspective, it is an important market for us, and we have five technical centres and we work with all the major OEMs there. So, I think as that evolves, we will be there to work with them to address electrification challenges as they come along.
Tell us more about the role of India as a market and the contribution of the Bengaluru Tech Centre.
We've been there for many years in Bengaluru and they were focused on doing software and systems for engine controllers. What we've done over time is, we have shifted and broadened their focus. So now that team is focused on electrification products like inverters and onboard chargers and e-products. We're shifting the composition and the capability of the team to line up with an electrified future. And that means when we continue to grow those electrified products, that's a team that can execute on that locally. And we're adding, that one of our business units is jumping in and adding staff in India. So, we're broadening the portfolio of products that they're working on there. The overall investment in electrification is clearly a big focus. So, as the market evolves, the investments would naturally migrate there.
The conversation is evolving from zero emission to net-zero emission. Your view?
Transitioning to EV has to be like a team sport. And the team is, you have the vehicle manufacturer making the car, you have the tier suppliers on the team, but then you have to have an EV grid as part of the team, because that’s where the energy is created, generated. So the focus there is shifting towards a more sustainable generation. And then, you have to get that energy. To where it's needed and that's part of the challenge.
While the ecosystem evolves outside, we're playing our part really by trying to engineer products that are cost effective, very efficient that we can make and scale, and the scale piece is important. So we can't lose sight of that. We have to get all the team players in the line. It is going to be a challenge of having the right energy and technology at the right place and at the right time. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a little bit rocky along that way.
This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's October 15, 2023 issue.
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