- The future of mobility includes anything with wings, wheels, and skis – and it starts in the Detroit Region.
- Automotive and mobility’s clean energy future will be myriad of technologies and companies delivering unique, ‘perfected’ solutions across industry sectors.
- Emerging technologies like hydrogen fuel cells offer custom solutions to market segments like long-haul trucking and heavy machinery.
The road to future mobility goes through the Detroit Region, and it won’t be traversed by only the passenger electric vehicles that garner most of the attention.
That future is now and includes long-haul semis powered by hydrogen fuel cells, 240-ton heavy mining vehicles that can recharge in 30 minutes, and massive concrete bunkers for testing large scale batteries only previously handled by the military – to name a few.
That was the message from three global mobility executives on a panel hosted by the Detroit Regional Partnership at the Detroit Auto Show’s first-ever Global Mobility Forum on Sept. 14.
“What’s the (mobility industry) going to look like 10 or 20 years from now, what’s going to be the prevailing technology? My answer is: all of it,” said Jonathan Drew, North American Head of Transportation and Automotive Business for TÜV SÜD, a subsidiary of a Munich-based global testing, inspection, and certification services company.
Drew echoed the sentiments of global thinker and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell who earlier had predicted that the automotive and mobility industry was going to be “splintering into 100 different pieces.”
Gladwell meant that as a positive due to the level of innovation underway to “perfect” the unique solutions needed in everything from long-haul trucking to urban mobility.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells Offer Long Haul Trucking Solutions
Case in point, Quantron U.S., a subsidiary of another German company, that aims to have its long-haul hydrogen fuel cell semi trucks in production by the second half of next year as it works from its Auburn Hills facility.
Long haulers needing to move freight cross country are going to require a different mobility solution than a battery electric vehicle a family would use for vacation.
“If there’s a whole bunch of EV semis all trying to charge at a truck stop, you’re going to need to put a powerplant next to every truck stop,” said Rick Haas, president and chief executive officer of Quantron U.S., alluding to the unfeasibility of that scenario.
The solution Quantron is developing for its customers combines electric battery packs that power short-term acceleration with hydrogen fuel cells that are lighter than batteries, offer greater range, and can be refilled quickly.
“The hydrogen fuel cell is great for producing steady, stable electricity for long distances and hydrogen is way lighter,” said Haas. “When you’re trucking long distances and not necessarily coming back to your home port to recharge the vehicle, hydrogen becomes a pretty good solution for those segments.”
‘If It Moves – We’re Working on It’
TÜV SÜD, which made a $44-million investment in a state-of-the-art battery testing lab in Auburn Hills, provides testing and certification services for the myriad of companies and technologies now populating the mobility landscape that are primed to deliver a clean energy future.
“I call my role in transportation not just automotive because we’re working with military and aerospace, we’re working with trucks, powersports, motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles,” said Drew. “Anything with wheels, skis, wings, whatever – if it moves, we’re working on it.”
Proverbial Road to Future of Mobility Includes 240-Ton Mining Vehicles
Another company demonstrating Gladwell’s “perfected use” prediction, WAE is a UK-based engineering and tech company looking for a U.S. location to deliver electrification and clean energy solutions. It serves customers in a variety of industries including automotive, off-highway, rail, aerospace, and defense.
The company, with a rich history in motorsports, is owned by Australian-based Fortescue Group, the world’s fourth largest mining company which provides iron ore to steel companies.
“Our founder Andrew Forrest has a vision to turn our mining business into a completely zero emission, real-zero company,” said WAE Chief Executive Officer Judith Judson.
In order to accomplish that, the company needed to look at converting its entire fleet of vehicles and mining equipment to battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
“Our operations use 630 million gallons of diesel a year and we want that to be zero by 2030,” said Judson, noting that the company now has a fully electric 240-ton battery electric mining truck and a megawatt charger that recharges the vehicles in about 30 minutes.
That’s a massive vehicle that’s likely to share the proverbial road to future mobility with all other types of vehicles – all designed to meet unique needs along the way to a clean energy future.
James Martinez is a freelance writer and founder of CraftWord LLC.