A clean horizon for the automobile

MAY 2011

08-01-01What is the future of the automobile industry? What will the car of the future be like? Those are possibly questions worth a million dollars – or probably even more – that executives in the major companies in the sector have been asking themselves for some time. The answer to the second question will undoubtedly determine the solution to the first.

08-01-03The internal combustion engine, which is ubiquitous today, faces particularly difficult challenges such as the need for a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the Peak oil phenomenon.

The main alternatives, which were exhibited at the Barcelona International Motor Show which were held between 14 and 22 May, are motors that are completely fed by electric batteries; hybrid vehicles, which combine electric motors, and an internal combustion engine; and hydrogen motors.

There are in turn two varieties of the latter: internal combustion engines like those used by gasoline vehicles, but with an energy source which is ‘burnt’ hydrogen”; and motors driven by a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity which feeds a completely electric motor.

08-01-04“Automotion will gradually shift towards electric vehicles, through hybrids, and depending on the pace of technological breakthroughs in electronics and energy storage,” says Rafael Boronat, president of the Automotion Technicians Society (STA).

“’Clean’ mobility is impossible without hybrid electric vehicles,” says Vicente Adrián, director of SEAT Spain, points out that “in recent months, we have unveiled two new ideas that take bring the future of research into sustainable mobility a little closer. The most recent design is the IBx, a hybrid concept car that you plug in to the mains. Meanwhile, last year we exhibited the second generation of the IBE, a 100% electric prototype.”

08-01-05Catalonia in general, and Barcelona in particular, will play an important role in the design of this vehicle of the future, as very important companies in the sector are located in the region. “SEAT has three production centres in the province of Barcelona: Martorell, Zona Franca and Gearbox del Prat,” says Vicente Adrián. “Our models are designed and developed in Martorell, the second largest technical development centre in Spain, with the largest investment. As a result, and because of its industrial and economic capacity, Catalonia will remain a key asset in the progress of the automobile in Spain.”

But the sector’s roots go much deeper, according to Rafael Boronat, who says that “all the links in the automobile value chain are represented, from design centres, where the initial phases of projects take place, to large production plants. And the auxiliary industries, suppliers systems and components and suppliers of engineering services, are equally strong.

Boronat believes that one of the reasons for the optimistic outlook for the sector in Barcelona is the area’s “important network of technology centres that have a very important role in the progress of the sector, as they contribute their knowledge of new technologies throughout the development process of new vehicles and during the industrialisation phase. We have centres specialising in a vast number of technologies, such as rapid prototyping, which enables quicker access to physical prototypes.”

Who knows whether one of them will be the car of the future?