The Automotive Technology Race: Is There Still Room for Innovation in the Tier 1 Sector?

Episode 18
November 9, 2023

Episode Summary

In this episode, Alexander Rosen, Co-founder of DeepDrive, sits down with us to explore new innovations in the Tier 1 automotive sector. From extending EV battery range, to revolutionizing powertrain technology, and smart modules that amalgamates numerous functions into a singular unit, we discuss how these innovations are not only disrupting the Tier 1 sector, but enabling automakers by significantly reducing total cost of ownership, enhancing safety, and setting new standards in serviceability.

Key Highlights

1:32 Overview of DeepDrive

2:26 Increasing EV battery range

3:18 Mainstream Applications for DeepDrive tech

4:25 Is there still room for innovation?

6:03 Challenges for hardware startups 

8:00 What can be done to accelerate adoption

10:08 The role of connected vehicle technology

12:15 The rate of EV adoption and a basis for acceleration

13:45 More on DeepDrive technology

Meet Our Guests

Alexander Rosen
Alexander Rosen

As a co-founder of DeepDrive with vast research experience in wheel hub motors, fault-tolerant electric machines, and manufacturing technologies, Alexander played a pivotal role at Fraunhofer Institute before contributing to Bosch as a Senior Expert in Electrical Machines.

Steve Schwinke
Steve Schwinke

Steve Schwinke is Vice President of Customer Engagement at Sibros, working closely with OEMs and Tier One suppliers to accelerate their connected vehicle solutions. He is a pioneer in the industry having spent 22 years at General Motors as an original Executive member of the OnStar team designing their first 3-button system, developing and launching numerous industry-first connected vehicle products and services. He is a recognized expert in connected vehicle technology having served on the Executive Board of Directors for the Telecommunications Industry Association and has been awarded 34 patents involving telecommunications, telematics, and navigation. Steve holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master's of Science in Wireless Communication Systems from Santa Clara University.


Alexander Rosen: Everything has to be connected today. So especially looking at how you gain data about the real usage of the vehicle, because as I mentioned, it's all about reducing cost, and at some points, you only can reduce cost if you reduce weight, take away material, reduce the sizing of the brake or something like that. And so you have to know what customers or drivers do with your vehicle.

Announcer: Welcome back to another episode of Point B, a Sibros podcast where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry.

Steve Schwinke: Welcome to our Point B podcast where we discuss the future of mobility in transportation products and services. My name is Steve Schwinke, Vice President of Customer Engagement at Sibros, and in today's episode, we're going to talk about what it's like being a disruptor in the mobility industry and the challenges companies face when introducing innovation from the outside.

On our show, we have Alexander Rosen, co-founder and powertrain system engineer at DeepDrive. A little bit of background on Alexander. He has over 15 years of experience in the automotive industry with research in wheel hub motors, fault-tolerant electric machines, and manufacturing technologies. Welcome to Point B, Alexander.

Alexander Rosen: Hi, Steve. I'm very happy to be here today.

Steve Schwinke: So let's first start with you providing the audience with a broad overview of DeepDrive and what your technology means to the automobile and transportation industry.

Alexander Rosen: Of course, yes. So we at DeepDrive are a young startup founded in May 2021. We developed completely new technology, it's a bit of a technical term, we call it a radial flux dual rotor electric machine; and this really deep technology has a significant potential to decrease costs of electric vehicles and increase range of electric vehicles. So our motor has the potential to increase the range of today's electric vehicles using the same battery size by up to 20%.

Steve Schwinke: So is that entirely within the motor itself or are there other parts like the rotors that you're providing more innovative technology on to achieve that number?

Alexander Rosen: So it's the whole drive unit. So what we call the drive unit is the inverter, so the port electronics, the motor consisting, of course, of stage one rotor and either the gearbox or special cases. We have to distinguish two cases of our technology, we are going without the gearbox. And then if you take this whole propulsion system of the powertrain of an electric vehicle, we with our technology can increase this range by 20% or vice versa, reduce the energy consumption by 20%.

Steve Schwinke: Are you focused on transportation as well in terms of Class 3 through 5 vehicles?

Alexander Rosen: So we are definitely focusing on mass market and passenger cars, so really mainstream applications. Most of our drive units we are developing currently are focusing on mainstream applications like, take a Tesla Model 3 or take a VW MEB platform or something like that. So those are what we are addressing because in this market we see the most or the highest potential to increase sustainability, reduce costs, and reduce effort in the transformation of the whole industry towards electric vehicles.

The transformation to electric vehicles is a tremendous task. So in the next 10 to 15 years, we have to exchange the whole fleet worldwide from combustion engine-driven cars to electric vehicle-driven cars. And that means that we have to produce I think 50 to 60 million electric vehicles each year.

Steve Schwinke: Traditional automotive companies see value in what you're doing. Why is that innovation coming from the outside? Why are they looking from the outside to bring in this type of vehicle performance improvement?

Alexander Rosen: Very good question. So of course, if you look at the motor in the electric motor, this is like the basic idea of the electric motor is more than 150 years old, so it should be, or in the minds of many people, there should be no room for innovation because there is this motor and it's 150 years old, and what can you do better on such an old system?

But if you look into specific applications of technology and you see how complex an electric vehicle is and how complex a specific adoption of the technology is for a use case, and in this case the use case is an electric vehicle going as far as possible with the given energy. Then you see that if you dig deep into the topic, you see that there is always some room for innovation or some space for innovation, as we always call it. And in our opinion, it's easier for a startup like us without most legacy components from the internal combustion engine-driven industry, it's much easier to innovate an electric motor and to bring such innovations to the market.

Steve Schwinke: What are some of the biggest challenges that you have?

Alexander Rosen: There are two main topics. The first one is hardware, and hardware is really difficult to realize as a startup because related to hardware, you start with a prototype and then you do this testing of the prototype, and then you do the next prototype and you do testing again. And then you go to a customer and make some adaptations and you build a new prototype and you do testing again. And then in the automotive industry, there is a process, an established process of an A sample, B sample, C sample. And this process of bringing new hardware into the market easily can take five to six years. And so for a startup, you have this large challenge or this really difficult challenge that there will be no revenue until that point. Until you reach that point, you have to put millions and millions of euros into it and many persons in many capacities into development. And this is why building up hardware in a startup is really difficult.

And of course, on the other side it's from a technology point of view, there are specific challenges. So especially when it comes to electric machines, the insulation concept, the cooling concept, and the combination of insulation with thermal cyclings and electric vehicles, with vibrations, electric vehicles, and to solve all these problems. But this is, I would not say it's easy, it's a challenge and it's engineering and you can solve this engineering problem, but you always have to keep in mind this other side that you are spending a lot of money to the point where the first revenue comes in.

Steve Schwinke: Is there anything that the OEMs, the ones that are ultimately going to use this technology, can do to help accelerate this adoption? Because it sounds like what you're bringing to the market is going to have a significant impact right away in terms of what we're trying to do is move toward a more sustainable future.

Alexander Rosen: The most important point on that is you always have to gain trust. So the customers that we aim for and their industry has to trust or believe in the things you're doing. So it's always important to reach milestones, to do some testing, to publish results, to compare results to what you have promised. Because especially with the startup business, it's always the problem that startups tend to over-promise. So they're promising higher efficiency, higher range gains, higher performance than what they can actually deliver. And this is really dangerous in a hardware startup because if you lose trust at some point, then it's going to be very difficult.

So looking at the automotive industry, you have to be to a certain point open and also open to technology. It doesn't work if you say, "Okay, we have this box and this box has some wonders inside it and it adds 20% efficiency." This will not work. So you have to explain, and of course, you also have to trust the customer that he won't catch your technology and build it by himself. So you have to have strong IP and you have to really focus on being fast in gaining IP and applying for patents because only if you have that do you have the possibility to be open to explain your technology to the customers because just to say, "Okay, we have this new technology and it will work out," doesn't work.

Steve Schwinke: No, I can agree. Because very few companies, if they don't understand your technology, are probably going to be very unwilling to put it in their vehicle, especially around propulsion. Let me come back to something you said that really got me interested, talking about internal combustion engines being around for 150 years. I always like to think that the internal combustion engine, it got very good because it's had multi-generations trying to make improvements to the way we do that. And then now the race for EV. And so you're seeing a lot more companies, a lot more competition, barrier to entry is less. How do you think about connected vehicle technology playing a role in helping DeepDrive as it becomes used within the automobile industry?

Alexander Rosen: Everything has to be connected today. So especially looking at how you gain data about the real usage of the vehicle, because as I mentioned, it's all about reducing cost. And at some points, you only can reduce cost if you reduce weight, take away material, reduce size of the brake, or something like that. And so you have to know what customers or drivers do with your vehicle. And with today, or especially in the last 20, 30 years, this data was, in my opinion, not sufficient.

So we have to be better in that data collection to derive for the next generation of vehicles the correct requirement, how to build up the cheapest vehicle, but still fulfilling the expectation of all customers. And at that point, I think a connected vehicle can really help, and of course in more obvious functions, like all things connected to autonomous driving and all this stuff, but especially looking at our product, we would be interested in gaining data from how electric vehicles are used today.

Steve Schwinke: So you're part of an industry that's helping build what I'll call a more sustainable future, a future that we all want to live in. What are your personal thoughts around how quickly is Europe moving towards EV technology? Are they moving fast enough? And what are some of the things that they could do to accelerate the adoption of alternative methods of transportation that will lead to a more sustainable future?

Alexander Rosen: So currently Europe is moving quite fast, so it gained a lot of speed in the past two years, and it still can be faster. I think what is still missing is... An important thing that's missing is affordable vehicles. So currently looking at the, especially the middle European market, there are only premium vehicles in the market. So if you want to have an EV with a range above 400, 500 kilometers, you have to spend at least 40,000 euros for it. And yeah, that's still not affordable for a large part of inhabitants in Europe. So there has to be a shift, especially in the next few years towards affordable electric vehicles.

Steve Schwinke: So Al, can you talk a little bit more about the technology that DeepDrive is bringing to the market and give us a little bit more depth in terms of like the dual rotor technology and some of the motor technology that you're developing?

Alexander Rosen: Of course. So this dual rotor emission technology is really a completely new kind of electric machine we are bringing on the market. So the basic concept of a dual rotor machine is, from an electric machine point of view, it combines the advantages of an inner runner and an outer runner into a single electric machine. So you might, from a very simplified point of view, you might think, it integrates two machines into a single machine, and so it can cut losses significantly and cut material usage significantly. So we end up with a very efficient, power dense, and cheap electric machine. So those are the main features of the technology itself.

And the concept of a dual rotor machine is not new, so it's quite old, but until today it was not possible to build such a machine because it has a really significant challenge in terms of mechanical strength. And this challenge of mechanical strength is what we are solving with our IP. And so this IP, or our core technology in the winding and the state of the selecting machine enables, for the first time, this enables us to build such a dual rotor machine.

Steve Schwinke: Fascinating. That's very interesting. Well, that's all the time that we have. I want to thank my guest, Alexander Rosen, for joining us to talk about DeepDrive and what it's like to introduce new innovative solutions into the automobile industry. Thank you, Alex, for joining us today.

Alexander Rosen: Thank you, Steve.

Announcer: Thank you for tuning in to Point B. Join us next time for more auto tech innovations and trends. Point B is brought to you by Sibros.