Visiting the <span>e</span>Mobility development unit

Visiting the eMobility development unit

eMOBILITY

eMobility is the future and ŠKODA AUTO is fully committed to its development. But who are the people working on batteries, charging systems and infrastructure at the Czech carmaker? Let’s get to know them.

19. 10. 2021

The ŠKODA Storyboard spoke to four developers from the team that goes by the official name of High Voltage Vehicle Power System. “We have dozens of people from different countries working in our team. But as the issue of eMobility becomes more and more important, we are welcoming new colleagues all the time. As long as eMobility is close to their hearts, they are meticulous and have a sense of humour, they will definitely fit in well,” says Catherine Oppenheimer to get the ball rolling. Her colleagues Michal Hora, Filip Jiran and Petr Zlatník also answered our questions.

How did you come to work at ŠKODA and what do you do in your job?

Catherine: I am an electrical engineer who loves cars. I can’t think of a better time to be born into, as today these fields are converging. My first journey to Mladá Boleslav was fast and powered by a four-cylinder internal combustion engine. (laughs) Today my day starts with a traffic jam in Prague, but I already move around the city on electric power alone. I am working on traction batteries for pure electric (BEV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars. For me, the traction battery is a fascinating electrochemical power source and a challenge to study and innovate. 

When a satellite town springs up on a greenfield site, people don’t worry about the stability of the grid. An electric car is simply “another appliance”.

Filip: Even when I was studying at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Czech Technical University, where many of my current colleagues studied, I knew that my career would be in the industry. Now I am in charge of mHEV technology at ŠKODA, what we call “mild-hybrids”. My daily goal is to make sure that this mHEV technology is fully tested, functional and that what we produce has no barriers to installation when the vehicle goes into production. This involves working with a wide range of information and a variety of systems. The issue is very similar to what Catherine is addressing with plug-in hybrids, but mild-hybrids do not charge directly from a wall outlet. Vehicles with mild-hybrid technology store recuperation energy from braking in the battery, and then use it during acceleration. Unlike PHEV technology, purely electric driving is not possible.

Filip Jiran

Michal: To put it simply, I deal with everything to do with charging electric and hybrid cars, especially charging functions and communication with charging stations. This is my third year working in technical development at ŠKODA. Previously I had the opportunity to be involved in the development and construction of unmanned helicopters, and later in the wiring of transport and airborne aircraft. In that work I realised the importance of being meticulous and that you can never skimp on the safety and reliability of electrical systems. This is also absolutely crucial in my current work, as this is also a major focus at ŠKODA and throughout the Group.

Petr: I have been at ŠKODA since 2007. After a few years in radio development, I wanted a change, but I didn’t want to leave the field of electrical engineering. I was intrigued by the chance to be involved in the technical field of charging for purely electric and plug-in hybrid cars. I was involved in electrical circuits when I was studying, and the innovation that characterises the field of electric cars is very appealing.

Even a car mechanic friend of mine, a diehard petrol head, was very pleasantly surprised by an electric ŠKODA car.

What are your daily challenges?

Michal: Car functionality is a very complex topic that involves many departments and companies. In a nutshell, I deal with the communication between the car and the charger

Petr: I also deal with charging, but from the hardware perspective, focusing on AC charging. Like my colleagues, my remit is broad, from commissioning the first prototypes, to testing topics such as electromagnetic compatibility, integration or crash tests and long-term tests, to releasing parts for mass production. I am particularly interested in building prototypes and then also in summer and winter tests in which we simulate extreme operating temperatures. 

petr_zlatnikPetr Zlatník

What has been your greatest work achievement?

Michal: Explaining to a few die-hard opponents of eMobility that electric cars are safe. Several people in our team bought ŠKODA iV electric cars as soon as they went into mass production. We drive ourselves and our loved ones in them and we spent our own money on them. But there are some people who literally have a dogmatic aversion to electromobility. And that’s what’s hard about our work. On the other hand, I don’t succumb to pessimism, my opinion is not based on blind faith, it’s our department’s daily bread. Even a car mechanic friend of mine was very pleasantly surprised by an electric ŠKODA car, when otherwise he is a die-hard fan of big, high-performance internal combustion engines. I refuse to force anything on anyone, but I have a message for everyone: if you get the chance to drive a ŠKODA iV, even briefly, give it a try and make up your own mind.

Catherine: One success we share in, all of us here at ŠKODA and the VW Group, is driving our cars and the incredible feeling you get when you meet them on the road. We all enjoy that. Whenever a car of ours goes into mass production, it’s an amazing time. From the moment when an idea turns into a prototype and that prototype turns into a product, we suddenly see it all around us at home and around the world. But as far as work achievements go, I think it’s the same for all of us as it is for Michael.

Catherine-Lee-OppenheimerCatherine Oppenheimer

What surprised you when you joined ŠKODA? Have you come across anything in the field of eMobility that you wouldn’t have thought of before?

Petr: I was quite surprised that the problems that are generally considered to be barriers to the wider spread of electromobility are in the vast majority of cases solved long in advance. Of course, the adaptation process takes time. In my work, for example, I deal with operators of public charging stations and manufacturers of home chargers and home and building energy management systems. These things are all gaining in importance as energy demands increase. The opportunity to look deeply into the issues has allowed me to see that our vehicle technology is already ready for wider deployment. Of course, it is necessary to work continuously to develop the infrastructure well in advance. The public needs sources of electricity regardless of the automotive industry.

MEB platform

Michal: I have a strong positive impression that relates to the enjoyment of driving and the everyday use of electric cars in general. This has completely exceeded my wildest expectations. I like the view of eMobility as a part of people’s energy management: on the assumption of smart dynamic control, the ordinary car, i.e. an appliance, becomes an integral part of a system that can increase the efficiency of operation and the use of all possible energy sources by means of smart charging functions. I have had personal experience of this for a long time, and I don’t find it restrictive in any way. The only thing that limits me is the fact that my girlfriend and I fight over who gets to drive. (laughs) I deal with these functions in technical development every day, and I really enjoy the work. Because it’s just meaningful.

Michal Hora

Sceptics sometimes talk about impending grid failures, or “blackouts.” Is that something to worry about?

Michal: I’m not worried about various horrific-sounding but simplistic calculations based on the premise that suddenly, at one moment, there will be a “click” and everyone will switch en masse to electric cars, whereupon the grid will collapse and so on. On the contrary! The ramp-up is gradual, like when the horses were replaced by the first combustion-engine motor cars. The infrastructure back then, in terms of places to fill up, is also not comparable to today’s possibilities. Not to mention the fact that fuel also has to be physically delivered to petrol stations, which is practically eliminated with an electric car – we can charge anywhere. I believe that this evolution is to some extent natural. If you had asked me the same thing ten years ago, when technology was not at such a high level, I would probably have said that eMobility was practically only for enthusiasts, but that is certainly no longer the case.

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Petr: Simply put, in addition to existing electric appliances that are becoming more efficient (the progress made by refrigerators over the last thirty years is great, for example), new electric appliances are appearing en masse, namely cars, while smart charging features are being developed that are both car-friendly and grid-friendly.

Catherine: When dishwashers became part of every household, or when a satellite town or industrial estate is built on a greenfield site, people don’t ask about the stability of the grid. I think it’s because they’re used to it. An electric car is simply “just another appliance”. 

I refuse to force anything on anyone, but if you get the chance to have a ride in a ŠKODA iV, give it a try and make up your own mind.

Your field has a promising future. Are you working with universities?

Catherine: Our cooperation with PhD students works very well. Enthusiasts who are working on related topics in their studies are welcome. If we find common ground with them, we try to support them in their studies. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that mutual support and inspiration will follow. Connecting with schools allows us to exchange knowledge and experience, literally complementing each other’s theory and practice.

Petr: In our team we are open to supervising undergraduate or postgraduate theses in the field of electromobility. We want to help young professionals grow, and overall we are excited about the interest in the field among young people. Coming into contact with them literally energises us, so we also like to visit universities and urge them to take part in our programmes.

Europe’s charging stations network is already sufficiently dense

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