Interview with David Hudson, Head of Vehicle and Powertrain Engineering, Tata Motors: Part 1

In August 2020, we spoke exclusively with David Hudson, Head of Vehicles & Powertrain Engineering at Tata Motors and one of our keynote conference speakers in December.  Watch Part 1 of the interview below:

Tata Motors reported revenue of around $43.4 billion in the fiscal year of 2019 and was recognised as the most valuable corporate brand in India. Though Tata currently doesn’t sell directly into the UK market, the company does have an important presence here, both as owners of Jaguar Land Rover and with the Tata European Technical Centre – a key component in Tata’s toolkit for improving its environmental impacts around the world. 

At Event Partners as part of the build-up to the hugely anticipated Vehicle Electrification Expo and Conference we recently had the chance to sit down with one of our brilliant speakers David Hudson at Tata Motors. David is responsible for delivering low emission vehicle strategy and innovation at Tata’s European Technical Centre in the UK. Our conversation pivoted around current EV and battery design, whilst considering which alternatives could either complement or replace the trend towards larger, heavier, more expensive batteries and EVs. Here are some of the highlights from our interview, you can also view part 1 of the recorded interview above:

(ORH is Olivia Ryan-Hill at Event Partners and DH is David Hudson of Tata Motors)

ORH: Perhaps you can give us an idea of your experience in a nutshell?

DH:

I’ve been involved in the automotive industry for four decades and have seen many changes, electrification is one of the key ones. I’ve really been involved in that for the past seven or eight years whilst at Tata Motors because that’s when the real electrification story has taken off – and I’ve since been involved in a number of the proof-of-concept vehicles that we’ve done, leading to the recent launch of our first production EV in India. It is an exciting time to be around automotive at the moment.

ORH:

If we look at a specific example it is reported that the proposed Tesla Roadster is set to achieve a 600+ mile range, however, we’ve all heard the stats – on average people drive 29.2 miles a day over two trips of 46 minutes. So, is it still such a great thing to keep pushing to these ever-greater ranges on electric vehicles?

DH:

It is, of course, technically – and engineers are given a target and then they try to exceed it and very, very long-range has for some time been the goal of EV engineering. We are trying to replicate what you can get with a liquid hydrocarbon fuel vehicle of course, and with the advent of diesels across the range in that field over the last ten years this has meant that we have seen extremely long ranges, there are a number of cars out there that probably have 1000km in a tank of fuel if you are careful.

We have always assumed that all customers want is this to be replicated in their EV because if you ask the customer what they want their car to do they often say “the same as an ICE”. So we have set a target which isn’t wrong but isn’t necessarily the most appropriate target. To back that up we have now instigated in the industry producing batteries that will allow every vehicle, certainly above a certain price point, to have such long-range and that means that we are very used to the idea of talking about Gigafactories that are capable of producing more than a Gigawatt of power a year.  The battery supply chain has got itself very excited about that. The forecast that various analysts have done have said that we will need hundreds of these Gigafactories to support the millions of vehicles we have to build. On a simple maths level that is true, but the one variable in this equation is what is the average size battery in the average car? Recently Volkswagen has announced some details about the extension of their ID range and the ID3 is with us right now. They have talked about that range starting on 50KW/h. Based on the statistic that you just talked about – with the very short driving range (the average driver driving 29.2 miles a day) – that (50kw/h) means that you wouldn’t charge your EV more than once a week. Which might be what the behaviour pattern is with your liquid fuel car, but actually charging your EV is a different experience than filling up a car with fuel, you don’t have to go anywhere to do it, it is charged where you are; whether you are at work, whether you are at the shop, or at home, you simply have to plug your car in, and it takes half a minute. Instead of having to sit in a dirty, smelly petrol station for five or ten minutes where you must go out of your way to get there. It’s an entirely different experience and it’s not fair to say that people don’t want to have multiple charge events.

Therefore, filling your electric car is more convenient. In addition to this, we have realised with the effects of lockdown, that you don’t actually need a car for a lot of the things that you thought you did – for the vital trips that are not vital trips and we have learned to live with a lot less mobility. The liquid fuel industry is hurting because of the much-reduced consumption of fuel over the last three months. There’s an argument to be made that, what I like to call ‘sensible EVs’, with a range that is much more suitable to their mission, actually are very good things because it stretches the supply of Li-ion batteries. You get more vehicles equipped with a battery, not necessarily the biggest battery, and by having more vehicles out there, you touch the lives of more people, you substitute more ICE vehicles and therefore things like air quality improves as well as consumption. If you assume that the average EV is 30kWh rather than 50/60 kWh which is the trend we are going for now, the logic says you have twice as many cars for the same battery factory capacity and that is a massive difference, changes for millions of cars around the world.

ORH

You just mentioned range anxiety, and I know you have some thoughts on how charging infrastructure, or the use of charging infrastructure could form part of the solution to this?

DH:

Charging infrastructure is one of those controversial topics because it’s always brought up as the reason why EVs aren’t more widely used as people, say “I can’t charge them” – but actually when you examine the statistics for the usage of public EV charging points, they are actually chronically underutilised. The utilisations rates are in the single-digit percentage points for the majority of places and if you consider that somebody has been asked to fund and make a business out of running these charge points, the return on investment is not very good. Another criticism is about charge points not being useable and out-of-service. Whoever buys them must get a return on investment and pay maintenance costs and so-on. We cannot quite see how as an industry we can force the private sector to fund more charge points when the return on their current investments is very low. So then you’re left with either a public sector charging – that’s been done successfully in a number of countries that have been early adopters. China has been highly successful, and Norway is the poster child for European focus on EVs, they have both had very major state interventions – but still, the utilisations rates of stations has been very low. What we need to do is convince people to use those charge points as a matter of routine and not use them as they do today which is as a last resort emergency; because it would be like saying we have 500 gallon petrol station at home and they’d much rather go home and fill up from their own tank at home than go to a station on the corner or go to the supermarket, that will drive those guys out of business really quickly. We are facing the same problem with EVs because it’s easy to charge EVs in lots of different places, the one place that we focused on, the public charging network isn’t really the most important of those; though yes it’s important to have it. We are seeing in emerging countries like India that last year there were only 150 charging points across the whole of India a country with 1.5 billion people and a car market of 2-2.5 million a year, so very, very sparse. The Indian Government have said they want to increase the frequency of charge stations to every 25km on highways and every 3km within cities – these are all massive goals, but they can be met with time. So what we have to do is educate the users of EVs to feel that the topping up of an EV at a public charge point is perfectly normal behaviour and that they move on quickly from those charge points so that they don’t block up. So, there are some very significant stories to be told around charging, but it’s not the only thing, we have got to put the cars out there and make them available.

ORH

You are coming to join us in the Keynote Sessions on December 2nd, and I wanted to ask, for you, what’s the importance of doing a show like this? Why are you looking forward to it and taking part in it?

DH

It has been an interesting dilemma of the past four months – we’ve all been prevented from meeting up in person and have been connected through these strange electronic things. A lot of that has been remarkably successful, but there is a great deal of importance in the random chance of meeting people that you didn’t know you needed to meet and talk about topics you didn’t know you needed to talk about. Historically, that is the way conferences work and we miss that. Having been part of the steering committee for this event since it was proposed, I think it’s a very exciting and relevant event, and one where the sooner we are allowed to travel and be allowed to be more than a metre closer to each other, we will learn things and accelerate that interaction between all sectors. Of course, it is important for us to see what other parts of the industry are doing. The battery suppliers, the material suppliers, the testing suppliers – they are all part of this bigger ecosystem, and sometimes we don’t voluntarily engage with them. We need the excuse of running into somebody or seeing a booth with an exciting display of materials on it or listening to a presentation with an intriguing title given by somebody who is clearly an expert.

ORH

If David has inspired you with those words – join him, alongside Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary and senior representatives of Britishvolt, UKBIC, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Innovate UK, the Faraday Institute, CATL and many more. We have a great number of leading speakers from around the world.

Watch part 1 of the interview for free above.

Register for free and join us at the Vehicle Electrification Expo and Battery Cells & Systems Expo on the 2nd & 3rd December 2020, NAEC Stoneleigh: www.ve-expo.com