While 2009 has exceeded all expectations as to just how bad a year it would be for global carmakers, parts suppliers and tool manufacturers, already there are green shoots appearing out of the dramatically altered landscape that is automotive production.
No where more so than in the area of hybrid and fullelectric vehicles. In only 12 months, the once-fractured future of automotive fuels appears to have dramatically crystallized, settling squarely on the potential represented by this ‘alternative’ vehicle segment. Barely a week goes by without an announcement concerning the launch of a new electric or hybrid model, while suppliers are scrambling to create partnerships and build battery factories in order to supply the much-anticipated wave of electric vehicle sales. Consider this: in 2008, there were two plants producing lithium-ion batteries in the world.
Would this be the case if the past year had been ‘business as usual’? The answer is clearly not, but this is unlikely to be a bloodless revolution. Should this mark the point at which electric vehicles start to supplant those powered by variations of the internal combustion engine, companies supplying carmakers with the tooling required for the final finishing of engine parts will surely fail to see any marked turnaround in their disastrous performances over the past 18 months.
At the upcoming METAV exposition, to be held February 23 – 27 in Dusseldorf, Germany, various representatives will address the question of what happens to tooling suppliers in the face of declining ICE production. According to Professor Hans-Jörg Bullinger, President of the Fraunhofer Society, the change to electric mobility signifies a radical transformation: “Everyone is going to have to adapt. Vehicle manufacturers will soon no longer be producing certain vehicle components. But these will be replaced by others.” Broadly translated, this means that although production of engine parts will fall, there will be other equipment that requires machining. Specifically, what shape that equipment will take has yet to be confirmed.
Carmakers, too, will have to adapt. Electric vehicles require considerably less area for manufacture and assembly in comparison to models currently in production. Further, weight-saving plastic body parts will immediately remove press and die producers from the automotive equation. Indeed, there might be green shoots appearing across the landscape, but they could signal the autumn – and not the spring – for 'classic' automotive production processes.