Automotive Europe 2024: Mobility transition, software-defined vehicles, smart charging & AI

Hayley Everett
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares speaking at Automotive Europe 2024. Image via Reuters Events.

The European automotive industry is in the midst of rapid change, with consumer shifts driving innovation at record speed. Along with much of the industry, the Engineer Live team was in Munich this week for Reuters Events’ Automotive Europe 2024 to discuss the industry-wide challenges and opportunities for OEMs, Tier 1s and government leaders in the sector.

In this article, we summarise the key technological trends, innovations and knowledge transfer currently taking place in the automotive space.

Competition with China

One topic that reared its head numerous times across the conference’s sessions was the ongoing competitiveness of Chinese automotive OEMs, who seem to be outpacing their European counterparts not only in terms of speed of production and innovation but also in competitive price points. The first keynote of the day, delivered by Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, addressed the topic in length, with Tavares stating the importance for strong cohesiveness between European partners in order to offer competitive pricing for zero mobility solutions. He also pressed home the need to encourage a more stabilised regulatory environment to give European leaders the time and opportunity to innovate the necessary technologies to keep up.

Shell Mobility’s Global Executive Vice President for Mobility, Istvan Kapitany, echoed this sentiment. In his speech, he stated that China was indeed leading the way in EV adoption, with Shell having installed more than 25,000 public charge points in the country alone, and Shenzhen airport hosting the company’s largest EV site.

Also chiming in on this topic was Aiways’ Executive Vice President Overseas Operations, Dr Alexander Rose. His company was the first Chinese start-up to introduce an electric vehicle (EV) to the European market back in 2017 with the launch of the U5 battery-electric SUV, and according to him, “Chinese entrepreneurs are driving the belief in EV. Mobility will be electric in the future, but affordability is still a big issue. Top-down is not the right approach, we need to get to the point where it is affordable so that the masses can drive change.”

Rose went on to say that innovation in electromobility and battery development in China is “beyond what [he] could have imagined two to three years ago,” citing new production methods and increased competition from the likes of Tesla opening a location in the country. “The particular advantage in China is on the battery side. In Germany, planning begins years in advance and by the time we have started building, two generations of batteries have already gone through in China. There is a willingness from Chinese OEMs to take the leap in new battery technology.”

The subject of manufacturing scale also deserves a mention, Rose says: “People want an EV that they can charge quickly and that is cheap – this goes on to next-level manufacturing not just in plants but in other areas. Battery manufacturers in China are innovating at a rate that in Europe we can’t understand.”

Aiways' Dr Alexander Rose speaking at Automotive Europe 2024. Image via Reuters Events.

Aiways' Dr Alexander Rose speaking at Automotive Europe 2024. Image via Reuters Events.

Mobility transition

A widely encompassing topic, and one rarely left out of the conversation of recent automotive gatherings, is the ongoing mobility transition. Shell is going through a transition in its competitive business in response, Kapitany said: “Mobility is changing the way people are driving cars and fuelling them. We need to all be significantly better in this new way of mobility - the transition is happening quickly.”

Serving 33 million customers per day around the world at 47,000 shell-branded mobility locations, the company is clearly taking a sizeable step in the mobility direction. The biggest biofuels producer and retailer in the world now has 55,000 public charge points at Shell stations, on-street and destination locations. The company is also experimenting with hydrogen, having implemented 120 hydrogen filling stations in Germany alone, although Kapitany reasoned the move is, “chicken and egg at the moment, but we need to be providing choices for customers and encourage use. We need to listen to customers about what they want, and fuel cells aren’t being bought in big numbers. We need to satisfy customer needs first.”

Looking to the future, Kapitany says the company plans to increase the amount of renewable content in fuels, help truck and HGV customers transition to electric and E-depots by being active in the electric truck charging space, and enlist further partnerships with tech providers to make the EV charging experience seamless.

Shell Mobility's Istvan Kapitany speaking at Automotive Europe 2024. Image via Reuters Events.

Shell Mobility's Istvan Kapitany speaking at Automotive Europe 2024. Image via Reuters Events.

Software-defined vehicles

Another topic at the forefront of conversation at Automotive Europe was software-defined vehicles, and in particular, where we as an industry are at on this journey. According to Sebastian Clamagirand, Senior Vice President of Automotive Systems and Marketing at NXP Semiconductors, the best user experiences are dynamic, personalised and transformative – and this is made possible by seamless integration of software and hardware.

“The vehicle of the future should be personalised and identify with the driver, able to dynamically adapt to user experiences and demands, such as optimised fuel use on short trips, adaptive driving experiences, advanced traction control, enhanced safety and comfort, or maximising range for long drives,” he said. “The question is: how do we make that happen?”

In his view, a major transformation from hardware-orientated vehicles to software-defined vehicles is required, and the way to do that is to completely change the architecture of current vehicles. Much of this architecture revolves around the Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which can contain tens to hundreds of software and hardware components. Currently, multiple ECUs require separate integration efforts, but consolidating scattered ECUs into a single ECU platform defined by software and enhanced by hardware, “would provide a safe, reliable, software-ready foundation for differentiating driver experiences.”

Closely linked to this topic is the idea of the ‘Connected Car’, which according to Florian Raschbichler – Director of Customer Services at HiveMQ – offers “improved user experience, deeper insights, optimised vehicle performance and new revenue opportunities,” for automakers. Achieving connectivity is not without its challenges, however, such as unreliable networks, unpredictable latency, limitations on two-way communication and fluctuating connectivity demands.

HiveMQ’s MQTT communication protocol is well-poised to solve these challenges though, Raschbichler said, thanks to its IoT messaging protocol, minimal overheads for clients, bandwidth, reliable communication, efficient bi-directional messaging and three Quality of Service (QoS) levels.