By T Murrali
Valeo, a technology-driven company and a supplier and partner to automakers worldwide, continues to design and develop innovative solutions for smart mobility, with special focus on intuitive driving and reduction of CO₂ emissions.
With the rise of electric drivetrains and hybrid technology, the way cars are powered is changing. Autonomous and connected vehicles and the digital revolution are creating new forms of mobility. The Valeo Group’s innovation strategy enabled it to anticipate these transitions and emerging market demands and fortify its profitable growth momentum.
High-tech products designed and made by the Group with precision and at low cost are at the epicentre of its ability to take on the three revolutions that transform automotive industry: vehicle electrification, autonomous vehicles and digital mobility.
Jacques Aschenbroich, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Valeo Group, told AutoParts Asia, “The automotive industry is experiencing three simultaneous revolutions: first, the electric car; second, the autonomous and connected car; and third, digital mobility. The scale of this industry transition is unprecedented, exceeding even the major changes it had undergone since automobile was invented. All the three revolutions are simultaneous and extremely fast-paced. And I firmly believe that these rapid transformations will reconcile the car with the city.”
Valeo is the world leader in driving assistance, with around 20 percent of the market share, and the world leader in sensors, which are the ears and the eyes of the vehicle. It has the widest portfolio of sensors, with cameras, radar, ultrasonics and the world’s first Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) mass produced for the automotive so far. Thanks to this expertise in sensors, associated with its knowhow in Artificial Intelligence, the Group achieved a world first, last September by running an autonomous car in the streets of Paris, fitted exclusively with its series-produced sensors. (See Box-1)
The Group is also a pioneer and leader in vehicle electrification. One in every three cars worldwide has Valeo electrical systems for reducing CO2 emissions. Its portfolio of solutions suits all levels of electrification and vehicle segments, from low-voltage mild-hybrids to high-voltage all-electric models.
These revolutions complement all the core businesses of the Group driving it to work in complete synergy. For instance, for autonomous cars, it not only provides all the range of sensors to have a clear perception of its surrounding environment, but also develops cleaning systems for sensors allowing them to work perfectly in all conditions: rain, mud, snow or dust. This is possible with its historical experience in wiping. For electric car, it not only provides the whole powertrain systems, but also develops smart thermal systems for batteries allowing to extend their life cycle and to optimise the vehicle’s range.
From Smart Engines To Electrification
The global mobility ecosystem has been converging in demanding vehicles to consume less fossil fuel and reduce pollution. According to published reports, the transportation sector causes 33 percent of the total emissions. As a pioneer and a global player in vehicle electrification, the Valeo Group boasts of having wide ranging product offering to support this revolution, such as affordable hybrid solutions that can be applied to the widest number of cars. To accompany this revolution that drives down CO2 emissions, it develops innovative technologies that are designed to lower energy consumption by electrifying powertrains, optimising overall thermal management and improving aerodynamics. These three focus areas help increase the efficiency of all engine types.
Sustainable development is embedded in the Group’s DNA and it is evident from the fact that the products that directly or indirectly contribute to reducing CO2 emissions accounted for more than 50 percent of its original equipment sales in 2018. Being the world leader in the low and high voltage powertrain systems market, it is constantly innovating to provide new electric solutions, like the first 48V 100 percent electric city-car unveiled at the CES last year, and an affordable solution for the urban mobility. Last year, nearly half of the Euro 2.1 billion it spent on R&D was dedicated to technologies designed to reduce CO2 emissions.
“World history has taught us that economic development and mobility go hand in hand. Valeo has been preparing for these emerging needs and use patterns since 2009, and we have continued to invest massively in R&D,” Aschenbroich said.
Just as drivers need their senses to remain alert on the road, autonomous vehicles rely on various sensors that act as their eyes and ears. Today the Group has the widest portfolio of sensors in the automotive industry with ultrasonic sensors, cameras – front, rear and surround view – radars and LiDAR. These technologies together enable the vehicle to ‘see’ what the human eye cannot always fully distinguish, from just a few centimeters to even 250 meters away.
Artificial intelligence and deep learning are becoming key drivers for the challenges of the automated cars of tomorrow, from high performance sensors capable of perceiving and understanding the vehicles context, to advanced automated driving functions in complex environments, smart interaction with users and learning capabilities through connected cars. This is perhaps the reason for Group to launch its first global research centre in Artificial Intelligence and deep learning dedicated to automotive applications. Seeing, understanding and acting is precisely what the autonomous car revolution is all about.
Today cars spend most of its time in the garage or parking lot, and when on the road, they generally crawl along the congested traffic, with drivers spending up to a third of their time looking for somewhere to park. That’s where connected and autonomous cars come into play. The Group’s expertise in broadband telematics allows connected cars to communicate with other vehicles and road infrastructure. Vehicles will also help to ease traffic flow by anticipating traffic signal changes at intersections and flexibly adapting their speed so as not to accelerate or brake unnecessarily. When needed, the car will find a free parking space, if the ‘driver’ has handed over the task to Valeo’s Park4U Remote system, and park the car. He will also be able to use Valeo InBlue, the smart, virtual car key that not only locks, unlocks and starts the car but also to geo-locate it and share it with another person, all through smartphone.
The Comfort & Driving Assistance Business Group of Valeo develops a wide range of solutions for autonomous and connected cars, and intuitive mobility. It contributes Euro 3.6 billon, about 19 percent of the Group sales. This division has 27 plants, seven development centres and six research centres manned by about 24,600 people. The highlight of this division is the conducting of the world’s first autonomous vehicle test in the streets of Paris with Level-4 Drive4U demonstrator. It made the company to win the 2018 PACE award for the SCALA laser scanner, the first LiDAR device certified for mass automotive production. Besides, these initiatives generated substantial orders for autonomous driving sensors from a major Californian new mobility player.
The Powertrain Business Group is at the heart of the electrification revolution as it develops complete electric propulsion solutions for hybrid or 100 percent electric vehicles as well as technologies to reduce fuel consumption and emissions for internal combustion engines. The division, having 55 plants, 16 development centres and eight research centres across the globe and employing 23,700 people, contributes about 26 percent of the Group sales at Euro 5.1 billion. In 2018 this division received the first order for a 48V electric system for a four-wheel passenger vehicle.
The Thermal Systems Business Group develops modules and systems to optimise thermal management for all types of powertrains and to ensure in-cabin comfort and well-being of passengers. It has won major contracts from German, French and Chinese automakers for battery thermal management of electrified vehicles. With 10 development and three research centres, this division has 64 plants with 24,500 employees contributing the same share as the Powertrain Business Group.
The Visibility Systems Business Group designs and produces innovative lighting, wiping and cleaning systems which support at all times and in all weather, the driver or the vehicle in their tasks while taking care of the passengers in their various on-board activities for a relaxed travel experience. Following the take-over of Ichikoh, Valeo has become a leading player in automotive lighting. It receives substantial orders for autonomous vehicle sensor cleaning systems. With manufacturing operations in 49 locations, 16 development centres and four research centres, this division contributes the highest share, 29 percent, to the Group sales at Euro 5.7 billion.
Valeo Service is the aftermarket division of the Group and it has been the partner for repair, crash and maintenance markets for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Leveraging the OE expertise of the group it develops innovative aftermarket solutions, tackling the latest automotive stakes. It has established its footprint in over 150 countries with 15 distribution platforms. The division had total sales of Euro two billion in 2018, during which it added about 13,000 new products.
Research & Development
Research and development has been at the core of the Group’s growth strategy and its identity as a technology company. On its scale, the Group has invested around Euro seven billion in R&D during the last four years to develop the electric, autonomous and connected car. In 2018, the level of Valeo’s R&D effort represented over 10 percent of its original equipment sales. It is quite a unique business model in the automotive industry which brings it closer to the tech giants.
Valeo’s innovations make it a preferred partner, for both the traditional automotive customers and for the new players, for mobility solutions. Last year, orders worth over Euro one billion came from robotaxis. Another billion euro order includes technologies incorporating artificial intelligence. Its 48V electric systems can not only equip cars, but also autonomous shuttles, three-wheelers and droids. It also develops technologies enabling new uses and businesses, as the virtual easy which makes the car-sharing easier than ever. New mobility means new opportunity and business for the Group.
As its focus is on developing new automotive technologies and finding solutions that meet and anticipate market demands, promote intuitive and safer driving, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as CO2) and pollution, its R&D spend has become more than 10 percent of its original equipment sales. To give an idea, the Group, in 2018, invested about Euro 2,073 million and filed 2,144 patents across the world.
For the third year running, Valeo has taken the first place in France’s INPI -Industrial Property Institute rankings, with 1,355 patents published in 2018, against 1,110 in 2017, consolidating its position as the most innovative company in France. For the third year running, the Group was also named the top French patent filing company with the European Patent Office (EPO), with 784 patents published in 2018 (18th worldwide). Innovation is the driving force for the Group’s growth, with innovative products (those that didn’t exist three years ago) representing 53 percent of the total order intake in 2018, or 60 percent including Valeo Siemens eAutomotive.
“This ranking fully reflects the importance of R&D in the Group’s strategy and our teams’ ability to constantly innovate and create new technologies that are essential to the development of electric, autonomous and connected vehicles – fields in which we are a pioneer and world leader,” Aschenbroich said.
Innovations Spur Sales
Obsolescence is increasingly becoming high with technology disruptions, which leads to lower commercialisation possibilities of new inventions. Nevertheless the Group has been investing more on research since innovation, which according to the company, is in its DNA. Valeo aims at democratising high technology to make it affordable and accessible to the greatest numbers, and to make mobility greener, safer and smarter for everyone. The relevance of this strategy is validated by its clients: in 2018, 53 percent of Group’s order intake was related to innovations. Secondly, one-third of its R&D spent was dedicated to the development of ADAS and autonomous vehicles and half to technologies designed to reduce CO2 emissions. With nearly 20,000 researchers, including 5,700 software engineers, as well as a network of more than 200 artificial intelligence specialists and a global open innovation ecosystem, the Group demonstrates its ability to adapt to the changing environment.
In last March the Group set up a state-of-the-art R&D Test Lab facility in Chennai, India, to further strengthen the technical competence and to house the test labs for its hardware, mechanical and local business research divisions.
Valeo’s open innovation ecosystem is built on numerous collaborations with universities, laboratories, startups and major industrial groups. This allows it to shorten development cycles for its products and time-to-market for its innovations. Aschenbroich said, “The technological platforms we have developed put us at the epicentre of these revolutions and give us a strong position in the fast-growing market segments, the autonomous/connected car and the electric/hybrid car, in the coming years.”
Enhancing Content Per Vehicle
With electrification, the Group hopes to multiply the value that it adds to cars by two to seven folds, depending on the solutions. The value addition will be by two folds for low-voltage battery electric vehicle and 12V mild hybrid systems, by three with 48V mild hybrid and by seven for high-power battery electric vehicle. With autonomous driving, Valeo hopes to multiply the value it adds by a factor of ten. This year there will be the launch of new automaker platforms. The value of the technologies that the Group will bring to the vehicles produced on these platforms will increase by an average of 75 percent.
As the global automotive production evolves, its centre of gravity is shifting to Asia. Automakers are developing global platforms that require automotive supplier proximity, wherever they are in the world. The Group has geared up to sync itself with the evolving changes. Valeo’s diversified, balanced customer base and geographic footprint is fully in line with this trend. (APA)
Etaples Unit – The Mother Of All Plants That Make Electric Products
Valeo’s plant at Etaples in the Hauts de France is one of the largest automotive alternator / alternator/stop starter factories in the world. Etaples manufactures two families of products, alternators, alternator-starters 12V (Gen2, Gen3) and IBSG 48V. Most of these electrical systems reduce fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions.
In 2018 this plant manufactured nearly 32,000 products a day, or eight million a year. In the current year it hopes to produce 8.4 million. About three cars out of 10 produced in Europe each year are equipped with an alternator or alternator-starter made in Etaples. One in ten cars produced in the world each year are powered by an electrical system from this plant. About 80 percent of the production of this plant is exported to 280 locations of vehicle manufacturers in Europe China, the United States, India, and Japan. The Etaples site uses robots and cobots (collaborative robots) to reduce painful and repetitive tasks. It also leads to increased manufacturing quality and operational safety.
This plant manufactures the most innovative alternators and alternator-starters, in particular those that reduce CO2 emissions and among them, the first in the market to have obtained the European ‘Eco Innovation’ label giving car manufacturers the opportunity to obtain CO2 credit. It is developing duplicate manufacturing processes at all Valeo plants dedicated to electrical machines.
In 2021, about two-third of the turnover of this plant will be generated by new products. This will include alternator-starters of 12 and 48 volts. A prototype production unit is installed at the heart of the site. It functions as a mini-factory that can make unique new pieces. Etaples delivers 1,200 prototypes per month, or 40 systems a day, to automakers around the world.
The Etaples site’s activity goes far beyond the sole manufacture of mass-produced products. This is called ‘mother plant’ as it develops the industrial manufacturing processes that are then deployed in other Valeo plants around the world. The company’s factories dedicated to the manufacture of alternators in China, Korea, India, Mexico and Turkey apply the same manufacturing processes established by Valeo Etaples.
Alberto Santos, Head of Etaples Plant, Valeo, told AutoParts Asia that Etaples is one of the 41 Valeo plants, for the powertrain systems business group and the hub for engines and reduction of CO2 emissions. The turnover for this plant in 2018 was Euro 640 million and, “in 2021-22 we expect it to cross Euro 950 million, an increase by 50 percent. So electrification and design time have an impact on the business. The order intake last year (2018) was one billion Euros; in 2016 and 2017 it was close to Euro1.3 billion. This has been made possible because of innovation. Today 90 percent of the intake is for the 48V battery. Customers may look at the cost factor but over the last one year they have been asking us for quotations for 48V. We are focusing on this aspect of the business as we feel that hybrid and fully electric is going to take over the market in a big way as compared to traditional thermal engines,” he said.
At the moment order intake is close to 30 percent with production rate of 50 percent; by 2022 it will be 90 percent. The production process is well automated; this avoids quality issues with the customer. “We make use of AI also to uncover any glitches in the entire assembly progression. We are a 3-Tech company that believes in the three Ps – Product, Process and People. This concept has been emulated by all the Valeo plants. We have 40 people here who travel to all our other plants across the world to monitor the application of all processes and train the people there on product development and competencies to cater to their business in the local markets. Our investment in this plant is Euro 30-35 million every year, which translates to about five percent of the plant’s turnover. This is the key that defines and develops our standards for the present and the future towards high quality product development,” he said.
The plant has additive manufacturing facility that is confined to making rapid prototyping of plastic parts. Sometimes it is used in special machines to make stators and rotors so as to reduce cost. About seven percent of its turnover goes to R&D. “Last year we achieved one defective part per million in productions (one PPM). Defects in parts per billion are 800. Our target is zero PPM. We have about 500 robots in the plant because the labour costs in Europe are high. In a competitive market we have to control and reduce costs. You will find the same level of automation in all our other plants worldwide,” he said.
On safety Santos said, “It is two per million hours worked (the number of accidents divided by the yearly work hours). It also takes into account the lost days that are mainly due to economic issues. The ratio we calculate tracks near-miss as well. We classify near-accident as Category-7; Category-4 is accident without lost days which is nearly 10 PPM. In the automotive market in Europe two near-misses per million working hours is rated as good performance. We work three shifts in this plant with a week-end shift also as our focus has always been delivery on time. (APA)
Drive4U, The Technology Contribution
Valeo has recorded a number of world-firsts with its autonomous vehicle demonstrators, including the first test drive of an autonomous car, fitted exclusively with ultrasonic sensors, on the streets of Paris last fall, and prior to that, road trips around Europe, the United States and Japan.
Valeo Drive4U is the first autonomous car to be demonstrated on the streets of Paris itself. It is equipped exclusively with sensors already series produced by Valeo and with artificial intelligence. A ride by this correspondent in the car gave a glimpse of how the technologies converge to help the vehicle to drive scientifically even on streets in traffic conditions.
The series-produced sensors used in the Drive4U include eight SCALA laser scanners (the only LiDAR scanner in series production today designed specifically for cars), four radars, four peripheral cameras, one front-view camera and a dozen ultrasonic sensors arranged all over the vehicle for 360 degree visibility. The calculation algorithms and Artificial Intelligence developed by Valeo aggregate the data from the sensors and analyse them in real time, enabling the vehicle to make the necessary driving decisions, all without compromising safety. The vehicle’s self-learning capabilities, based on deep learning, play a fundamental role.
During the ride the vehicle displayed a 3D model of surrounding vehicles and pedestrians and could predict their trajectories. This is done for those objects not in its immediate field of vision. It navigates in a precise and robust manner, thanks to a geolocation and mapping system developed by Valeo. This enabled the car, a Jaguar F Pace, to drive without human intervention even through tunnels and in other similar environments such as underground parking lots where a GPS signal is lost. The car learns about the road infrastructure, in real time and with every trip, to handle a growing number of driving situations, including those not already encountered. It is capable of learning to manage a wide variety of driving situations in urban environments. Since it is almost matching to Level-4 of autonomous standards, it is able to handle, without human intervention, several challenges including driving along an undivided highway; smart and traditional traffic lights (stop and start) and road signs; intersections and traffic circles and other road users (pedestrians, bicycles, scooters). The car drove itself scientifically with text-book precision. It was sticking to the lane perfectly but at ease. Even on winding roads the car continued to be at the centre of the lane with the space equidistant on both sides of the car from the respective lane markings. This was the same case while it was travelling in a tunnel where GPS signal was absent. It managed with the coordinates of the road travelled by and maintained its position. It detected the road signs and traffic lights and moved precisely by giving the vehicles coming behind with warnings such as turn-light or brake light well in advance.
Guillaume Devauchelle, CTO & Vice President, Innovation & Scientific Development, Valeo Group, told this correspondent during the ride that, the objective of making a demonstration car was to show that only sensors currently in mass production were able to make a Level-4 car, which is quite an achievement. “As you can see there are no super expensive sensors on the roof of the car and we want to show that we can design it by just using a normal laptop. It is feasible to make a demo by using current in-production sensors. This is the objective and particularly to show their use even in heavy traffic conditions as it is in downtown Paris. Managing traffic on highways would be much simpler as the roads are straight, in deep contrast to the hustle and bustle of Paris traffic. That’s why we have set up this demo car. A lot of engineering has gone into it, especially AI.”
The project commenced sometime ago and it is not an isolated one. This is a Gen-1 car whose value has been scaled up. Now Gen-2 is already in production. The company wants to show that it is feasible without having to use costly additional equipment. This became autonomous for the first time in 2017 and was not used in Paris but in the suburbs to tackle difficult traffic conditions.
Roughly 100,000 km were demonstrated using two demo cars not only in France but the rest of Europe and the US. “We had a demo in Las Vegas during the CES show. There the traffic was easier as the roads were much broader but there were some problems like no road markings; speed limit signs were more difficult to understand than in Europe,” he said.
On the response from vehicle manufacturers after the demo and their feedback he said, “OEMs have tested the car and we are in co-development with some of them. The purpose of the demo was to show how this setup can be integrated into their systems, especially in terms of safety concepts. This specific feature that Valeo offers has been much appreciated by the OEMs. The old system used more equipment including stereo cameras for distance measurement; we use only a mono one but can gauge the distance using a SCALA.”
As the demo car is not connected there are no cyber security issues here, he said. However, when the autonomous car comes into mass production it will be connected. “We have other demo cars to show this using the shark-fin antenna; we can plug in a special network access device just below the antenna to know the car’s technical architecture. If something goes wrong the system can adapt. Instead of having a direct connection through phone, it can be made using the network access device which checks all messages and isolates anything that is trying to corrupt the system. For this we use specific software from startups and other companies,” Devauchelle said.
Asked about the next step for Valeo in the development of the autonomous car, he said, “It is not a step but a roadmap; we hope to have cheaper sensors especially for radar but the next step will be improvements inside the cabin; it is everything about driver monitoring, about life-detection on board, avoid motion sickness and ensure public acceptance. All legal requirements about certification should be met, the advantages of AI should be explained, use 3-D trajectory planning and cover multiple lanes. Basically, it is to enlarge the operating conditions.”
Valeo has technology even to clean the sensors since, since, in some countries like Mexico, it is necessary to clean the cameras. “As there are multiple cameras in the vehicle, we propose multiple solutions. One is having a rotating glass in front of the camera that would brush off water drops before it hits the equipment. The rotation brushes the drops away and with AI you could look through the grey circle to rebuild the image. When the camera is behind the windshield we have a specific wiping system that just applies water and does not spray it; the wiper blades brush pass in front of the camera. There is no disturbance to the driver and the very little water is used. We call this the Aqua blade with which you can clean the windshield and cameras multiple times without seeing the water. Also, you don’t need to refill the water tank every 200 km.