The quiet automobile (r)evolution “Made in Austria”
What do Audi, General Motors and Jaguar have in common? All of them manufacture vehicles in Austria and enjoy the many advantages of this automobile hub in the heart of Europe. This by no means only relates to the central geographical location on the European continent, but also the modern infrastructure and well-trained skilled employees. BMW also takes advantage of this. The core of every second vehicle from the Munich-based premium vehicle manufacturer is derived from the company’s own engine plant in Steyr. Austria is not only a crucial factor in the present-day development of the automobile, but also serves as a trendsetter of the automotive future.
The fact that Austria is an important player in the field of research and development has a longstanding tradition. There have always been important innovations in the industry “Made in Austria”. For example, think of the Lohner-Porsche. It was the first hybrid vehicle in the world, developed in Vienna close to 120 years ago by Ferdinand Porsche and Ludwig Lohner. This innovative spirit has persisted up until today. The automotive sector has the largest share of researchers, accounting for 13.7 percent of the total number of employees in the industry. This is complemented by the close networking of companies with universities and non-university research facilities in the respective regions. One example is the research center Virtual Vehicle in Graz, which makes use of computer simulations in order to develop new technologies for automobile producers such as Daimler, BMW, Audi, VW and Renault.
Trendsetting: Austria and e-mobility
The paradigm shift in the industry, reflecting the transformation from a reliance on combustion motors to focusing on alternative drive systems such as e-mobility, naturally also shapes the sector in Austria. On the one hand, this change impacts the production process. For example, Jaguar is having its iPace vehicle – which is about to be launched on the marketplace - completely assembled by Magna in Graz. On the other hand, the industry is also targetedly confronting the numerous challenges which exist. Current e-vehicles, especially influenced by battery performance and high vehicle weight, still have a range which is still worlds apart from the comfort and convenience provided by traditionally mobility. However, Austria is also creating the best conditions here to adequately respond to this problem.
In addition to the enormous level of expertise Austria has built up on the basis of its long and traditional role in the automobile industry, the country also offers public sector funding measures and the research tax credit raised to 14 percent at the beginning of the year. Moreover, clusters exist in various areas of the country which specifically deal with the issue of electromobility. These include the Automobile Cluster Upper Austria, where the focus is on lightweight technologies.
Furthermore, an important contribution is also being made by the Austrian component supply industry. Companies such as AVL and Kreisel Electric have intensively worked on battery solutions for electric-powered vehicles. Kreisel Electric in Upper Austria offers the world’s lightest and most efficient high-performance battery. The Pure Range Extender developed by AVL is a specially conceived Wankel engine serving as a generator, and which can charge the battery if needed. For example, this technology is already being used by Audi for its A1 e-tron.
Nothing works without a suitable infrastructure
Austrian cities are already creating facts on the ground and thus the foundation for the new approach to mobility, whereas other countries are still discussing what should come first i.e. the e-vehicle or the necessary charging infrastructure. The utility company Wien Energie is planning to install 1,000 new charging stations in Vienna for e-cars by the year 2020. The first ones were already installed in January 2018 and will be put into operation in April 2018.
Austria provides an optimal breeding ground for innovative mobility and automobile solutions thanks to its intelligent combination of know-how and cooperation between the government, the corporate sector and research institutions. This is also reflected in the number of patent applications. An average of 348 patents in the automotive sector alone are registered in Austria each year. 233 of them were in the field of electromobility in the years 2011-2015. As a result, Austria is ranked second in European comparison. It is truly an automotive stronghold, substantially helping to shape the quiet (r)evolution in the industry.