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Wire connector – ‘Asin’ heel’ of petrol cars

Connectors – cheap components that help connect wiring systems – are becoming the weak point of the traditional auto industry.

Some even predict that this type of component could lead to the demise of the internal combustion engine car line. That means electric cars can prevail against the disadvantage of rivals.

In fact, the supply of auto parts has been blocked due to the conflict in Ukraine – a country that plays an important role in the manufacturing industry worldwide, and the connectors exported from here are used for hundreds of thousands of customers. new car every year.

Low-tech and low-margin components – made from metal wire, plastic and rubber with low labor costs – may not make a name for themselves, but cars can’t be manufactured. if they are missing.

This situation could accelerate some automakers’ plans to switch to electric vehicles. They will want or be forced to produce electric vehicles with next-generation connectors and wires that are lighter, and made by machines instead of humans.

Workers at a company that manufactures and assembles connectors and conductors in Mexico for export to the United States, April 27, 2017.  Image:

Workers at a company that manufactures and assembles connectors and conductors in Mexico for export to the United States, April 27, 2017. Image: Reuters

At this time, cars with internal combustion engines still account for the majority of global new car sales. Electric vehicles have doubled in sales by 2021, reaching 4 million units, but still only account for 6% of total sales, according to JATO Dynamics.

Makoto Uchida, Nissan’s chief executive, said that supply chain disruptions, such as the Ukraine crisis, have prompted the company to discuss with suppliers about giving up the low-cost connector.

But in the medium term, automakers and their suppliers will have to shift production of connectors to other, lower-cost countries.

Mercedes used to have to use a plane carrying connectors from Mexico. Some Japanese suppliers have had to increase production in Morocco, while others have to look for new production lines in countries like Tunisia, Poland, Serbia and Romania.

Connectors for fossil fuel cars group the lines together, and the wiring can be up to 5 km long on average per vehicle. Wiring connects everything from the seat heaters to the glass doors. It’s a labor-intensive industry, and with nearly every car model unique, a production shift is unlikely to happen quickly.

Supply disruptions in Ukraine are a wake-up call for the auto industry. Factories and suppliers say factories are still open thanks to the persistence of workers there, who keep a small flow of components between power outages, anti-aircraft alarms and Curfew.

Adrian Hallmark, Bentley’s chief executive, said that the British super luxury company was afraid of losing 30-40% of production in 2022 due to lack of connectors. Finding alternative manufacturing sources is complicated by the fact that conventional connectors already have 10 different components from 10 different suppliers in Ukraine.

Hallmark added that supply problems have sharpened its focus and invested in developing a simple connector for electric vehicles that will be powered by a central computer. The British automaker – a subsidiary of the Volkswagen group – has plans for an all-electric car line by the end of 2030.

“Tesla’s model – a completely different concept of wiring – is something we couldn’t change overnight,” Hallmark added. “It’s a fundamental change in the way we design cars,” the CEO commented.

The next-generation connector, used by native electric car makers, like Tesla, can be made in areas of automated production lines and will be lighter – a factor important by reducing weight Electric vehicles are the top requirement to increase range.

Many executives and experts interviewed say that fossil fuel cars – which face growing bans in Europe and China – may not last long enough for a redesign to help them. new generation connectors can be used. Sandy Munro, an auto consultant in Michigan, US, estimates electric vehicles will account for half of all global sales by 2028.

Walter Glück, head of Leoni, a Ukrainian wiring company, says that the supplier is working with automakers to come up with new and automated solutions for the connector on electric vehicles.

Leoni is focusing on modular or zoned connectors that can be split into 6-8 components, short enough for assembly automation and reduced complexity.

Among automakers, BMW is also moving towards the use of modular connectors, which require fewer chips and fewer wires. As a result, it is possible to save space and make the car lighter. The new type of connector could make it easier to wirelessly upgrade a vehicle – an area where Tesla dominates.

Part of the wiring system on a Tesla electric vehicle.  Photo: Inside EVs

Part of the wiring system on a Tesla electric vehicle. Image: Inside EVs

On the Tesla Model S, the total length of the wiring is only about 3 km, which is much less than the stated average of 5 km, and the Model 3 is only 1.5 km thanks to the integrated component design. to reduce the amount of wires used. Even the American car company aims to use only 100 m of wires on electric vehicles.

CelLink, a California-based startup, has developed an automated “soft connector” that is flat and easy to install, and it raised a $250 million investment earlier this year from firms including BMW as well as other suppliers. automotive applications such as Lear Corp and Robert Bosch.

CEO Kevin Coakley did not name the customers, but said that CelLink’s connector type has been installed in nearly a million electric vehicles. In fact, only Tesla has such a large number of electric vehicles, but the US company did not comment.

Coakley says that CelLink’s new $125 million plant is being built in Texas with 25 automated production lines capable of converting different designs in about 10 minutes because components are manufactured from engineering data. number.

The company is working on electric vehicles with several automakers and is considering building another factory in Europe.

While the production time for a typical connector changeover can take up to 26 weeks, Coakley says its company can deliver redesigned products in as little as two weeks.

That kind of speed is what traditional automakers are looking for when entering the electric vehicle market, according to Dan Ratliff, an expert at Fontinalis Partners based in Detroit.

Over the past decades, the auto industry has felt no rush to rethink part of the industry, like the connector. But Tesla changed that, Ratliff commented.

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