That’s the kind of vehicle that Mahindra & Mahindra is building at its expansive Mahindra Research Valley (MRV) in Chennai, a lab that has birthed many of the bells and whistles that have made the company’s XUV700, Scorpio Nand Thar models best sellers today.Right now, the young team of engineers at MRV are busy creating a brand new architecture for a cool and smart born electric platform.
R Velusamy, president of automotive technology & product development at Mahindra & Mahindra and the man behind the MRV, sees this as a critical shift from giving the customer what he wants to giving the customer what he dreams of. “Across the world there are different factors driving electric vehicle sales,” he says. “In Europe it is regulation, in the US it’s product driven.” A product like Tesla, for instance, is an EV too sexy not to be a must-have. A smartphone on wheels. And that’s the kind of vehicle the engineers at MRV are aspiring to build on the born-electric vehicle (BEV) platform.
We took a tour around MRV’s EV section. The core is the next-gen HPCC (high performance computing cluster) Qualcomm chip being used in the vehicle. “This vehicle will have cloud connectivity with 5G and ethernet backbone, which means the computing strength will be five times more powerful that what exists today,” says Velusamy. Mahindra will be the second OEM in the world to use this chip.
“Say you’re driving down from OMR (in Chennai) and you come close to Chengalpattu, it will tell you this is Kancheepuram so you can buy silk sarees and visit the temple,” says Velusamy. “It will give you weather alerts, traffic alerts, act as your tourist guide, but most importantly tell you how far away the next charging point is, put out the map, calculate the range left and suggest the best route.”
The EV will also have Level 2 ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) offering EyeQ6 chipsets from Mobileye, as opposed to the EyeQ4 in internal combustion vehicles. “Mahindra will be the first to use these globally,” says Velusamy. Backed with five radars and 11 sensors, the car will be able to park itself. The central compute system will also enable the car software to upgrade without the customer having to take it to the dealership. “The controller is designed to have a buffer so when the software is not active, it will upload the upgrade and you wouldn’t even notice it,” says Velusamy.
The BEV will also come with sensors and radars which will react to the driver’s face. “It recognises your face and it recognises four or five modes,” explains Velusamy. “If you are sad, it will offer some songs or jokes, if you’re happy it will offer a different set of songs.” But most importantly, if the person driving is either drunk or exhausted, “the vehicle will slow down the speed, keep on alerting the driver, show coffee signs in the infotainment system, and check the steering angle”. It will also check how the leg is moving with the accelerator. This technology will monitor the eyeball movement of the driver and codriver so if you are driving and looking at something else, it will immediately pop up and tell you to keep your eyes on the road. If hands are not on the steering wheel, the camera detects it and tells the driver. The camera will even detect and alert if there is something unusual happening inside the car like someone trying to break-in, has a gun or is behaving in a dangerous manner.
The real engineering shift in this born electric vehicle platform is in the layout of its battery pack. The new platform builds the car around the battery which is sitting on the floor of the vehicle. A range of innovations are helping make the battery pack light-weight and more range efficient. “Our battery structure is aluminum and we use lightweight sealants and the cell stack is sealed in an end-to-end plastic plate,” says Velusamy. This is not only lighter but squeezes in extra space to pack more cells for better range.
The platform uses lithium ferrous phosphate or LFP cell chemistry which has less power density than NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) but is safer. “We have gone with advanced chemistry to give more range for the same weight in LFP,” adds Velusamy. “We are optimising each and every part to reduce battery weight.”