Magna CEO Swamy Kotagiri had some interesting things to say about electric vehicles and more when I participated in a conversation that will air beginning Sept. 9 on “Autoline This Week” on PBS.
Magna’s a mega-supplier to the auto industry, and one of Wall Street’s favorites as it positions itself to cash in on the switch to electric vehicles. The world’s third-largest auto supplier by sales, the Canadian company makes products that range from electric drive systems to body panels — basically everything it takes to make a car but tires and the windshield. Magna even assembles complete vehicles for other manufacturers, including Jaguar, for which it currently builds I-Pace and E-Pace SUVs.
Magna has a deal to build electric vehicles for auto designer and serial startup boss Henrik Fisker, and many ongoing discussions about production with other automakers, Kotagiri said.
Magna has been aggressive about developing electric drivetrains and driver assistance systems, moves that led some financial analysts to favor it over many auto suppliers. What’s next for motors and transmissions?
“Beyond 2025, 50% of Magna sales will be from electrified powertrains,” he said. In this context, “electrified” includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles.
In addition to familiar concepts like the electric-powered axle the supplier developed, that includes some surprising areas, including the likelihood that Magna’s metal forming business — at first glance, the furthest thing from advanced electric powertrains — is well-positioned to win business making battery enclosures, the rugged metal containers that protect EV batteries from impact and environmental damage.
He also expects Magna’s transmission business to benefit, despite the fact that most of today’s EVs use a simple single-speed direct drive rather than the complicated gearboxes internal combustion engines need.
“With three or four speeds, an electric vehicle can get to the efficiency of a nine-speed automatic transmission,” Kotagiri said.
Some of the efficiency gains may also come from sophisticated drive modes programmed into electric motors, he said. As battery costs fall, it may make sense to increase a vehicle’s battery capacity than build more complicated transmissions than that, he said.
“The transmission may not be physical gears, but three or four operating ranges for the motor.
“The motor itself may not be the differentiator,” between the performance and appeal of different brands, he said. “The differentiator may be in controls, software and power electronics.”