As the domestic automobile and light-truck markets gradually trend toward various electric vehicle (EV) designs, forgers are faced with both challenge and opportunity. This article shows how the opportunities presented by the EV industry are being met by Anchor Harvey through the launch of its Electric Vehicle Workgroup.
Major automotive OEMs and new startups alike are already well in pursuit of the next generation of transportation. The automotive industry is currently shifting to new technologies that have already started to change the way many people think about transportation. Developing technologies – such as electrification, automation and connectivity – are increasingly being included in new vehicles, disrupting the long-established means by which autos have been powered, operated and, perhaps most importantly, manufactured. However, the potential market disruption also presents an opportunity for American manufacturing in general and the forging market in particular.
ICE vs. EV
To understand the disruptions and opportunities in the coming shift from the internal combustion engine (ICE) to electric vehicles (EVs), it is important to first discern the differences between the two systems. While ICE vehicles and EVs may, at a glance, look similar, they are remarkably different under the hood and floorboards. In an electric vehicle, the fuel tank is replaced by a battery pack, and the internal combustion engine is replaced with one or more electric motors. Similarly, the ICE vehicle's multi-geared transmission and clutch are replaced with a fixed, single-gear gearbox. EVs also do not require any form of onboard emissions control because they do not produce any carbon emissions.
The result is that EVs have far simpler motors than ICEs in terms of both their operations and manufacturability due to EV powertrains having fewer moving parts and less mechanical complexity. Ac-cording to UBS, the electric motor on Chevy’s Bolt has three moving parts, which is in sharp contrast to the 113 moving parts in the internal combustion engine of a Volkswagen Golf. Despite having fewer components and reduced intricacy, EVs nevertheless present new challenges that major automotive institutions and startup companies have yet to solve. Currently, the difficulties being faced fall into two primary areas: power-to-weight ratio and expensive component supply, which are the same areas that present opportunities for forging companies.
A view of Anchor Harvey’s shop floor
The Weight of Power
Range anxiety – the concern that a vehicle may have insufficient range to reach its intended destination – remains one of the most significant obstacles to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The cause of this anxiety, a dilemma currently faced by every consumer-facing EV company, is the current power-to-weight ratio of electric vehicles. Due to their large lithium-ion battery packs, EVs are hefty vehicles. In some cases, they can be heavier than their traditional ICE competitors. Automotive magazine Car and Driver compared Audi’s 2019 e-tron to a 2019 Ram 1500 pickup in a notable example and found that the “e-tron, with its liquid-cooled 95.0-kWh lithium-ion battery, weighed in at 5,843 pounds – 78 pounds more than the 5,765-pound long-bed Ram 1500.”
Built for Range, Not Anxiety
The power-to-weight challenge of increasing range and eliminating anxiety that faces EV manufacturers has only two possible solutions. They can either increase battery power or decrease vehicle weight with advancements in energy-storage technologies such as solid-state batteries and ultracapacitors. Other emerging technologies are in the early stages of development or exceedingly cost-prohibitive, so expect that most plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles will continue to use standard (and notably heavy) lithium-ion batteries for the foreseeable future. This provides an opportunity for forging companies to lead the way in reducing, or even eliminating, range anxiety through the manufacture of high-strength, lightweight components.
With the reduction of vehicle weight being such an important factor for increasing EV range, forging companies able to get into the EV space early will be able to demonstrate themselves as invaluable partners to automakers. By delivering lighter components and overcoming the power-to-weight ratio dilemma, forging companies like Anchor Harvey and its EV Workgroup are already working to enhance mileage gains and pave the road ahead for the next generation of electric vehicles.
To prepare for future-car technology demands, forging companies need to determine how best to fit into the growing EV market, from consumer to commercial vehicles.
The Price of Success
The second issue faced by automotive OEMs and EV startups is the cost of materials and components. With relatively few exceptions, most of today’s EVs are priced high and aimed at luxury-car buyers. According to data from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average electric-car price in the U.S. is $19,000 higher than the average price of a gasoline-powered vehicle. The higher prices of EVs can be attributed to several factors, including expenses associated with prototyping; research and development; and, not insignificantly, the cost of rare-earth metals used in EVs such as neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium.
A study conducted by Dr. Ryan D. Long, a mining analyst at the Edison Research Group, makes a note of how “[t]he mid-term growth potential of EVs and neomagnets could drive demand for rare-earth elements to levels never seen before. Obtaining secure and sustainable production outside China must be front and center in the thoughts of end-users.” Growing demand for rare-earth metals isn’t the only production issue EV manufacturers are confronting. Global supply-chain issues have also led to sky-rocketing prices in steel and numerous other staple manufacturing materials. Given these compounding issues, it is of little surprise that EV manufacturers are experiencing difficulties in bringing down vehicle prices.
Supportive policies and government initiatives have aided in cost reductions for electric vehicles, but prices have remained high. There is no potential cure-all for the cost of EVs that run on conventional lithium-ion batteries, but there are ways for EV manufacturers to begin bringing prices lower, which presents a second significant opportunity for the forging industry.
The variety of solutions that forging offers commonly leads to forged components being less expensive than alternatives. This can be of considerable assistance to OEMs and EV startups to lower their overall production costs as they look to bring down the MSRPs for electric vehicles. American forging companies are well positioned to help EV manufacturers adjust their supply chains to a new trading landscape by providing value in the form of lower-cost or cost-competitive components. For forging companies like Anchor Harvey and others with an entirely domestic supply chain, the opportunities are still greater.
Using domestically sourced materials and American-made forged components enables EV manufacturers to secure shorter lead times for parts with little or no overhead inventory requirements and a lower raw-material price, particularly when the total cost of ownership is taken into consideration. With cost-competitive forged components and the ability to provide better lead times than overseas competitors, U.S.-based forgers are uniquely positioned to meet the current price-specific needs of EV manufacturers.
In addition, American forging companies can provide valuable services to EV OEMs such as consultation, design engineering, quality inspection and rapid prototyping. According to the International Energy Agency, up to 130 million battery-powered EVs and 90 million plug-in hybrid vehicles are expected on the roads globally by 2030. The American forging industry can grow along with the market and supply components at scale as consumer demand for EVs continues to increase during the years ahead.
As the EV market grows, the demand for lightweight forged-metal parts – like this aluminum car strut (top) and front suspension component – will continue to increase.
The process of forging has existed for thousands of years and will continue to provide components to industries and companies across the globe for thousands of years to come. Undoubtedly, many forgers will (or perhaps already have) begin to mourn the internal combustion engine’s demise. While the transition from forging components for ICE vehicles to EVs will require adjustment and flexibility, it is the next step forward for the forging industry. With the high-strength, lightweight, cost-competitive, range-advancing benefits that forged components provide, the forging industry will help the future take shape.
Anchor Harvey, which has both a passion for developing sustainable electric vehicles and a century of forging expertise, launched its Electric Vehicle Workgroup because of the opportunities presented by the EV industry. The EV Workgroup is partnering with name-brand OEMs, emerging startups and niche producers to deliver high-strength, lightweight components for the next generation of transportation. The forging industry has continuously adapted over the centuries, which is why we at Anchor Harvey are here to forge forward by delivering components that help electric vehicles go farther and last longer.
Anchor Harvey developed its Electric Vehicle Workgroup to address the needs of modern automotive technology companies manufacturing electric vehicles.
All graphics provided by the author.