Speaker Interview: Paul Freeland, Principal Engineer at Cosworth



Paul Freeland, Principal Engineer at Cosworth, discusses his vision of the future of electric mobility and the challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve EV market growth in Europe.




 Tell us about your role and responsibilities. What do you see as your core focus for the immediate and long-term future?

Cosworth has a long heritage of leading the world in terms of high-efficiency powertrain. Part of my role is making sure we keep our eyes focused on the horizon (and neither too far above, nor too far below) and that we continue to use our creative and innovative engineering talent to keep us and the UK at the forefront of powertrain.

In this respect, my focus is on assessing and developing the right combinations of technologies for each application, at each step of development – bringing to production those technologies that are mature and robust enough to release to service, while further developing those that are not ready. Our current activities cover a huge range, from hybrid powertrain development for hyper-cars, through to advances in Li-ion battery cell technology to reduce weight and packaging requirements of automotive battery packs.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a business and that you see across the sector, and what are the opportunities?

As a business, some of the greatest challenges we face currently are choosing and planning which technology to develop and bring to market, at which stage. The world at the moment is in an unprecedented situation in which change is being forced at a rate that is significantly faster than the natural evolution of products, and not always in the most logical or sustainable directions. Working with this to deliver practical engineering solutions that are robust in the present, while not becoming obsolete in the near future, requires sound insight into the technology that is evolving and the landscape surrounding this.

These challenges apply to the whole of the automotive sector, compounded by sometimes somewhat bizarre political instability and drastic swings in legislative focus. For me, the greatest challenge currently is to ensure that the legislative structures and practical frameworks can work together to provide responsible, enjoyable, efficient and workable ways forward, and that investment funding is steered towards the right long-term activities, and not just the latest trends or short-term political objectives.

Where do you see the biggest growth opportunities in electric vehicle markets? (Feel free to answer either geographically, technologically or market-led.)

EVs offer reduced local emissions and improved air quality within urban areas. They offer recoverable energy, and thereby greater efficiency during journeys that involve braking from high speeds. In this respect, the biggest growth opportunities market-wise are, I believe, in commuter cars and personalised urban transport. Geographically, this offers the greatest advantage to locations where city commerce is dominant and commuter journeys are relatively short. Emerging megacities and regions where air quality is susceptible to tailpipe emissions are the obvious areas for increasing uptake of EVs. Growth within Europe, and even more so within the USA, will be very dependent on consumer confidence, which is affected by the availability of charging points, the magnitude and longevity of government subsidies, and the development of increased battery range.

Can you pinpoint what you see as the biggest challenge to EV market growth in Europe?

There are several challenges that need to be overcome in order to facilitate any significant market growth within Europe. Perhaps the greatest of these will be the provision of an adequate energy distribution network facilitating the provision of more public charging points, together with the development of faster charging technologies. Parallel to this is the development of batteries that can allow greater range.  

The sustainability and reliability of government subsidies is another area that is critical for consumer confidence. I would add to this the need to present and publicise correct information about the benefits of electric personal transport, rather than any mis-selling of political campaigns. For me it is very important that we avoid an ‘Electrogate’ scenario and potential backlash arising from the over-selling of EV attributes. The product must be fairly represented, both in terms of true range, and the impacts of heating, lighting and age. Failure to do this could cause a significant loss of confidence in the products before the technology has been allowed to mature.

What do you see as the biggest disrupter to the car industry in the next decade?

The greatest disrupter we are seeing at the moment is political intervention, and the shift from technology-neutral legislation towards technology-prescriptive legislation. This potentially kills investment in, and the development of, technologies that are not the politically trendy ones. This shift could potentially revolutionise the products that are available on the market, and effectively dictate the compromises that consumers have to accept.

In other areas, obviously the drive towards autonomous vehicles is very much in the public eye, and is very trendy to talk about. However, I do see some very fundamental hurdles in terms of product liability and consumer protection that do need to be addressed and resolved in a robust way before this can proceed. More practically, while this is being sorted, I think that the evolution of smart driving aids and geo-planning for maximal energy management and traffic management will be a very important step in facilitating that, and could potentially lead automotive development forecasting back to a more recognisable and pragmatic roadmap. This technology will be vital in maximising EV utility, taking into account journey routes, charging opportunities, traffic congestion and local conditions to maximise the range and convenience of EV transportation.

What are you most looking forward to at The Battery Show 2018?

This show will be a great opportunity for all those who attend to discuss and share ideas on technology evolution and the diversity of different solutions, and to debate strategies and pathways. Events like this are vital because there is so much happening in the world of batteries at the moment.

Who would be your five all-time best dinner party guests and why?

Now this is a very interesting question. It does rather beg the question of what we want from a good dinner party. However, after some thought the five people I would most like to invite for an insightful, intellectual conversation over dinner would probably be:

Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown – the Scottish-born pilot – for his immense wealth of experience of life and politics, his absolute clarity of thought, and the wisdom he had derived from what must be one of the most interesting and influential lives ever lived in the 20th century. I was very fortunate to have been able to attend a talk that he gave a few years ago, and was captivated by the accounts of his experiences spanning over half a century.

In a similar vein, I would also like to invite Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling – founder of the SAS as a small distractionary raiding group in 1941 – for his audacity, ingenuity and demonstrations of just what human beings can achieve if we ignore perceived limitations and conventional thinking. Accounts from this period in history inspired me so much as a teenager to question and push every limitation I was presented with. You can only find out your real limitations when you try.

Continuing the theme of audacity, courage, determination and adding a little more wisdom and insight, I would also like to invite Frau Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz and instigator of one of the most constructive and encouraging publicity stunts of the 19th century. Her valour was applied in a much more constructive way, with a greater degree of ‘human interest’, but was no less inspiring. I’m beginning to wonder what projects could arise out of such an evening – but for sure, whatever arose I would very much want to be a part of it.

Another lady whom I would very much like to invite to my dinner-party (and the only one still currently living, sadly) would be the author JK Rowling. I have enjoyed her writing a lot over the past years – particularly for her depth of insight into life and human psychology and interactions. There is no doubt that these were born with a lot of grace, out of some very difficult times, and to me they represent the jewels that are earned through perseverance and courage. I would love to learn more of her upbringing and the experiences that led to some of the characters she’s created.

Finally, well, who else could you invite to a fantasy dinner party but the late, great Freddie Mercury. I’m not quite sure how he would interact with my other guests, but for sure it would be both fun and entertaining, and the whole evening would be completely unforgettable! Here again is a person whose passion and commitment far outweighed the challenges he faced, right up to the very end. He is another person who continues to inspire long after his mortality expired.

Paul Freeland will be speaking at The Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo 2018. Don't miss his session Smart Cells: Enabling the next generation of EV & HEV batteries on Wednesday 16th May.