Meidensha: Creating a better future with our people and technology.

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This content is a reprint of "Meidensha: Creating a better future with our people and technology"
that was posted in the Nikkei Online Edition from February 2018 to March 2018.

This content is a reprint of "Meidensha: Creating a better future with our people and technology"
that was posted in the Nikkei Online Edition from February 2018 to March 2018.

加速する自動車新時代の課題解決に向き合う/明電舎

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Stage3 Driving force for a new era for automobiles.Electric vehicle drive systems. As a pioneer of EV drive systems, we support the accelerating growth of electric vehicles.

Since cars with gasoline engines were developed 130 years ago, the basic structure of the power source has remained unchanged. Today, the automotive industry is approaching a paradigm shift. Electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHP), and other electrically powered vehicles are becoming more widespread in the context of global warming and other problems in society. Instead of an engine, these vehicles have a drive system made of motors and inverters. Meidensha began working on these at an early stage. As we seek to resolve issues of a new automotive era, the enthusiasm of our people and organization is reflected in the R&D that we have continued ceaselessly since the early days when widespread adoption still seemed an unlikely prospect.

The TOKYO MOTOR SHOW is a celebration of automobiles held every two years. One of the trends seen at the fall 2017 event was the rise of electrically powered cars. One of these is the MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV, a plug-in hybrid SUV from Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. Meidensha supplies its drive system, which consists of motors and inverters. Meidensha also produced the drive system for the world's first mass-produced electric vehicle, the MITSUBISHI i-MiEV, which was released in 2009. Just as Mitsubishi Motors is a pioneer in electric vehicles, Meidensha has supported the rise of the electric vehicle market as a pioneer in drive systems.

  • Yoshinori Nakano
    Yoshinori NakanoEV Components Development Division
    EV Components Business Unit
    Meidensha Corporation
  • Hiroaki Kakei
    Hiroaki KakeiEV Inverter Development Section
    EV Components Development Division
    EV Components Business Unit
    Meidensha Corporation

Numazu Plant in Numazu-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture develops and produces inverters that are used in the drive systems. Yoshinori Nakano, General Manager, EV Components Development Division, has worked in this area since he joined the company in 1990. He talked about the OUTLANDER PHEV as we took it out for a spin. "When you step on the gas, the response is a strong, smooth torque. You can't get this kind of acceleration with a gas engine," he commented. Indeed, we found the acceleration to be amazingly quiet and smooth.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), there were 2 million EVs and PHVs around the world in 2016, only about 0.2% of the total number of automobiles. However, with improving environmental awareness and tighter regulations in multiple countries, the number of EVs and PHVs is expected to reach up to 70 million in 2025. France and the UK have announced their intention to prohibit the sale of gas and diese einginel vehicles in the future, and regulations will also be tightened in China, the world's largest market. Hiroaki Kakei, Manager, EV Inverter Development Section, indicates the importance of addressing problems in society through business: "Electrically powered vehicles will absolutely need to be a part of our response to environmental issues."

Meidensha's drive system, the heart of an electric vehicle.Meidensha's drive system, the heart of an electric vehicle.
Meidensha's drive system, the heart of an electric vehicle.

Ceaseless engagement in R&D;
Goal of making drive systems 15 times smaller
within 16 years after beginning mass production.

Meidensha first became involved in the history of electrically powered vehicles in 1990 when the company joined an EV project with participants from industry, government, and academia. As a company with professional capabilities in the field of electricity, Meidensha supported the project with the inverter and motor technologies that the company had developed since the company's founding.

Since then, Meidensha has continued to be involved in development with finished auto manufacturers and universities. Nakano recalls, "There were many development items, such as reducing the size of the drive system, making it strong enough to withstand high rotation, and making the inverter resistant to vibrations." The inverter used in the first-generation MITSUBISHI i-MiEV (2009) was half the size of the inverters of the early 1990s. And in the current i-MiEV, the inverter is half the size of the one in the 2009 model. A smaller drive system means a lighter-weight vehicle with more interior space, and it also improves electric power efficiency, which corresponds to fuel efficiency in gasoline cars. Battery performance tends to be the focus of attention with regard to electric power efficiency, which is directly correlated to cruising distance, but the evolution of drive systems has also made a big difference.

The smaller the drive system and the higher its power output, the more efficiency is improved. Therefore, performance comparisons are based on "power density," which indicates power output per unit volume. The 2013 model of the OUTLANDER PHEV has 2.5 times the power density of the first-generation i-MiEV. This is the result of continuous engagement in R&D.

Drive systems will continue to evolve in the future. Kakei says, "The use of silicon carbide (SiC) in power semi-conductors for the inverter will be a breakthrough." Silicon carbide is expected to allow significant system miniaturization because it provides outstanding heat resistance and voltage endurance with low power loss. Kakei adds enthusiastically, "We hope to increase power density to 15 times the level of the 2009 model by 2025 through device evolution and motor-inverter integration." A dramatic increase in efficiency will be achieved in just 16 years after the start of mass production of drive systems.

The inverter (left) and motor (right) used in the first-generation i-MiEV at the time when mass production began in 2009.
The inverter (left) and motor (right) used in the first-generation i-MiEV at the time when mass production began in 2009.
Pursuing dramatic miniaturization compared to the time when mass production began in 2009.
Pursuing dramatic miniaturization compared to the time when mass production began in 2009.
R&D is indispensable for improving performance.

Overcoming a crisis of business contraction;
New challenges emerging in a period of faster growth.

Despite appearances, it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Meidensha's electric vehicle business, which has had to overcome many hardships. Growth in the electric vehicle market did not proceed as expected, and mass production of drive systems had not yet started. In addition, the torrential rains that struck the Tokai region in 2000 delivered a severe blow. The business base in Nagoya was flooded and was moved to Numazu. With no profits being generated, the business structure became much smaller in scale. There was even a time when only two employees were assigned to the EV business.

Even so, the company continued with development and refused to give up. Nakano recalls, "There were difficult times, but with a great deal of hard work by senior colleagues and coworkers, we managed to get through them." Meidensha has supplied the drive system for the OUTLANDER PHEV ever since it was first released, and a cumulative total of 140,000 vehicles have already been sold. This success was made possible because we continued to work on research and development, believing in the future of the electric vehicle market.

Even after overcoming those hardships and seeing the pace of growth pick up, new challenges are arising. "Not many companies were in the business when the market was small, but more and more companies will be competing in the future," said Akira Hayashi, General Manager, EV Components Sales Division. "We will need to work harder in terms of both sales and technology in order to continue to supply better products that can make a positive contribution to our customers and the economy."

Akira Hayashi
Akira HayashiEV Components Sales Division
EV Components Business Unit
Meidensha Corporation

Summary.

In the future, more business is anticipated with finished auto manufacturers in other countries, including China and Europe. Competitiveness will need to keep improving in terms of both performance and cost. Nakano states, "Of course, cost competitiveness is a necessary part of business. When this leads to lower prices for electric vehicles, reducing the barriers for purchasing by consumers, the resulting growth in electric vehicles will also help to address environmental problems and other issues of society." More advanced drive systems will help to resolve problems in society through a shift toward electric vehicles. Meidensha will continue to play an important role in fostering an era of electric vehicles.

Motor drive units for OUTLANDER PHEV by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation

The motor and inverter supplied by Meidensha to Mitsubishi Motors for the Outlander PHEV.

Explanation of terms.

Drive systems for electric vehicles.
The drive systems of electric vehicles use motors and inverters. The role of the inverter is to optimize the amount of electricity supplied from a battery (power source) to the motor (driving force) while finely regulating power supply to the motor controlling its output to maximize its operating efficiency. Because the motor's torque and rotation speed have an important impact on driving performance and riding comfort, the inverter is considered to be one of the key devices for obtaining the maximum performance from the motor of an electric vehicle.
*Honorifics omitted.

Meidensha: Creating a better future with our people and technology.

  • Stage1 Powering the excitement.
  • Stage2 Protecting water resources and infrastructure that nurture the community.
  • Stage3 Driving force for a new automotive era.
  • Stage4 Pursuing greater safety and stability in railway transportation.
  • Stage5 AI for water treatment protection
  • Stage6 Efficient energy management.
  • Stage7 Lightning Protection.
  • Stage8 IoT to protect from heavy rain.
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