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Car-makers doubt EV targets: is automation the answer?

09 March, 2023

A survey of nearly 600 automotive industry leaders around the world has revealed that more than half (59%) do not think that EV (electric vehicle) adoption targets are achievable within government-set deadlines. The Automotive Manufacturing Outlook survey, commissioned by ABB Robotics and the publication Automotive Manufacturing Solutions, reveals worries over the high levels of investment needed, shortages of raw materials, poor charging infrastructures, insufficient grid capacity, and challenges in adapting to new battery supply chains.

Although 28% of those surveyed believe that the deadlines are achievable, they also say that there will be significant challenges, while 18% believe that the present targets will never be met. Only 11% believe that the national targets for EV adoption by 2030-2040 are realistic.

ABB suggests that an answer to these problems lies in flexible, modular production cells that are digitally connected and networked, and served by intelligent AMRs (autonomous mobile robots). It argues that higher levels of flexible automation could solve labour shortages and could be scaled up or down depending on the demand for a particular vehicle, or redeployed across a factory, avoiding the need for significant capital expenditure.

“The automotive industry is acutely aware of the stresses and strains involved in meeting the proposed regional timetables for reaching full EV production,” says Joerg Reger, managing director of ABB Robotics’ automotive business. “Automation is key to making production more resilient, efficient and faster to meet these targets, which is why we’re seeing high demand for our robots that specialise in EV powertrain assembly. These solutions radically reduce build times, improve flexibility, further simplify the production process and ultimately drive down production costs.”

More than a quarter (26%) of those surveyed view poor charging infrastructures as being the main constraint to wider EV adoption, while 17% believe that high vehicle prices are the main barrier to EV growth. Almost a fifth (19%) highlighted the challenges in adapting to new battery supply chains as a key barrier, while 16% expressed concern over the high levels of capital investment required.

When questioned about delivering sustainable manufacturing, the industry leaders were more positive, with 80% predicting that sustainability is achievable. Only 4% felt it would not be possible.

ABB argues that flexible, modular automation could solve some of the issues holding back the wider adoption of electric vehicles

Almost a quarter (24%) of those quizzed for the survey feel that high capital costs are the main challenge to achieving sustainable manufacturing. ABB argues that with robots becoming easier to access, integrate and use, automation will be the key enabler in delivering sustainable manufacturing.

“The survey confirms that manufacturing is under strain and disrupted supply chains are under considerable stress,” says Daniel Harrison, an analyst at Automotive Manufacturing Solutions. “This is likely to be the ‘new never normal’, which poses considerable challenges to how quickly the industry can transition to electrification and also wider manufacturing sustainability targets, especially during a period of great economic uncertainty. Furthermore, within that context, challenges remain in the availability and cost of labour and how quickly large workforces can be reskilled.”

Copies of the Automotive Manufacturing Outlook can be downloaded.

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