That was the Dritev 2020, for the first time completely digital and corona-safe - A review

"Do we abandon the internal combustion engine too soon...?"

Experts doubt that the shift to electric mobility can be achieved in the near future. Ecological and economic interests also need to be reconciled. The International VDI Congress Dritev (Drivetrain Transmission Electrification in Vehicles) took place completely digitally for the first time. From 24 to 25 June 2020, the experts presented the new developments in the field of transmissions and powertrain.

The combustion engine could once again play a role in the mix of tomorrow’s drive systems. Since Corona, many basic assumptions on the way to the automotive future have to be reconsidered. Legislators must also review their positions.

2050 as a turning point?

Emission-neutral mobility is one of the engineers' highest goals. There is currently no euphoria for a timely implementation of this challenge, e.g. through electric mobility. Most participants of the Dritev assume that climate-friendly vehicles will not be on the roads for the most part until 2050.

Some even believe that it will not be until 2060. A particularly pessimistic participant even assumes that it will not happen until 2100. This is the result of an online survey during the central panel discussion at the Dritev. Here the participants had the opportunity to participate interactively. In addition to chat discussions and question rounds, they were called upon to give their opinion via online voting.  

Corona Pandemic - Returning to your own car

Facing the current pandemic, 55 percent of the Dritev participants believe that the car manufacturers will not reach their CO2 targets this year either. Instead, as many as 58 percent believe that OEMs and suppliers will be forced to reduce their investments in climate-friendly drive technologies.

At the same time, public transport could decline significantly, as the overwhelming majority of 79 percent believe that the corona pandemic will lead to a veritable renaissance of individual mobility. A shift away from public transport to the car, but also to the bicycle or e-scooter could be imminent.

E-Fuels as an intelligent solution to current problems

All participants consider electric mobility to be a possible and sensible option, but the majority of the discussants believe that it could be a mistake to abandon the proven and cost-effective technology of the combustion engine too quickly. "E-Fuels could help to reduce the emissions of this well-known technology," says Tom McCarthy, for example. He works at the Research and Innovation Center at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn (USA). The idea of reducing CO2 and pollutants through e-fuels, i.e. synthetic fuels, is also supported by Wolfgang Berger, Senior Partner at the consulting firm Roland Berger in Stuttgart. The idea is to further expand this and produce with green energy. This would help to achieve the climate targets, especially in the short and medium term. In the long term, it could even be used to power airplanes and ships. He also points out that around a third of all vehicles are not registered on the American, European or Chinese market. This is particularly the case in South America, for example. Sustainable solutions for the future are also needed for these markets, as these countries still have a long way to go if they also want to convert their traffic completely to electric mobility. Many of these countries, especially those in Africa, could probably not afford it at all.

Taking customer wishes into account

"Imagine you want to go out for a pizza. Then the waiter looks at you, samples you and tells you: "No, you're not getting pizza. Salad suits better to you," says Prof. Dr. Lutz Eckstein. He is director of the Institute of Automotive Engineering (ika) at RWTH Aachen University. You can't tell the customer what he has to want. Instead, the scientist and chairman of the VDI Society of Automotive and Transport Technology advises the automotive industry to reflect on its strengths and maintain its innovative character. Instead of relying strictly on electrical or combustion engineering, he says, one should dare to be visionary. For him, e-fuels could also be a possible path to a climate-neutral future.

Changing the point of view (Life Cycle Assessment)

On the road to climate neutrality, Eckstein calls for the legislator to be made more accountable. He believes that the point of view has not yet been optimally chosen in order to get a holistic picture and to be able to assess the situation completely correctly. He criticizes the legislator's centring of the perspective on CO2 values or emission guide values. Of course these are also important, but in the long term they could distort the view of the essential. "It is wrong to consider only the local emission values of a vehicle and use them as a benchmark. It only shifts the problem, but does not generally prevent CO2 emissions," says the scientist. That is why he recommends that the legislator introduce Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), i.e. a consideration of the entire life cycle of a product.

This systematic analysis of the environmental impacts of products throughout their entire life cycle ("from cradle to grave") is very complex, he says, but it is important to explain to policymakers exactly why this is the really sensible approach.

Cleaner cities through lighter vehicles

Eckstein also gives an example of how pollutant levels could be reduced relatively easily in the medium term, especially in cities. For example, he recommends an enormous reduction in the weight of vehicles. He says it makes no sense to drive cars through cities like Hamburg that weigh one to two tons. Lightweight vehicles weighing a few hundred kilos would make much more sense in cities, he said. However, there are currently no legally prescribed guidelines for this. This could possibly be a first indication for politicians of how cities could be made cleaner despite combustion technology.

Courage to cooperate

The experts see a way out of the crisis in the industry, which has come to a head in particular as a result of the corona pandemic, in comprehensive cooperation with one another. This could help to save immense costs; especially in the development of future technology, says Wolfgang Berger, for example. The experts expect that car manufacturers will generally invest less money in unproven future technologies, such as autonomous driving. This is currently simply too risky financially, as it is uncertain whether these billions will ever pay off. "Many have a high, undreamt-of potential for cooperation," says Eckstein. The cooperation would not necessarily lead to competition or even cannibalisation. It could even have the opposite effect, namely it could be an important building block out of the crisis. 

The Dritev will take place again in 2021 at the usual location in Bonn.

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