Wheels are turning in Finnish automotive sector
Many Finnish firms have found a niche in paving the way for autonomous and electric road traffic.Adobe
Finland may not be traditionally thought of as an automotive powerhouse, but it is home to many companies at the van of autonomous and electric mobility.
Valmet Automotive, one of the world’s largest contract automotive manufacturers, has continued its emergence as a developer and supplier of electric vehicle batteries.
The Finnish automotive company celebrated the opening of a battery production facility built adjacent to its assembly plant in Uusikaupunki, Southern Finland, on 14 September. The 120 million-euro facility is eventually expected to churn out battery modules and packs at a clip of 500 000 units per annum.
“The possibility of producing electric vehicles and battery systems under one roof is a unique offering for the automotive industry,” noted Olaf Bongwald, CEO of Valmet Automotive.
The facility is initially projected to provide employment to approximately 200 people, but the number is to more than double to 500 once all of the four planned production lines are operational in 2024.
The opening ceremony took place only a little over a week after the company reported it has secured a second client for its other battery plant, located in Salo, Southwest Finland. The agreement signals the introduction of high-voltage batteries to the product range of the plant that has so far focused on 48-volt batteries.
Also the Salo plant has recently undergone an expansion, with the floor space growing by 3 500 square metres to 23 500 square metres over the past year. The additional space is utilised for both logistics and production, boasting industry-leading internal logistics solutions such as autonomous mobile robots (AMR) instead of traditional forklifts.
The company is looking to increase its headcount by about 250 people in Salo. While the majority of the open positions are in logistics, production and quality control, the plant also has a need for specialists and supervisors.
“Valmet Automotive is growing very fast in battery business,” stated Jyrki Nurmi, director of electric vehicle systems at Valmet Automotive.
The growth bodes well also for Finland. Global demand for battery systems is booming as the adoption of stricter emissions reduction targets has sparked a dramatic switch away from combustion engines in the automotive sector, including by behemoths such as Ford, Mercedes, Volkswagen and Volvo. Valmet Automative’s operations have been verified as carbon neutral since January 2022.
Europe in 2020 overtook China as the largest market for electric vehicles, with 1.4 million vehicles, and aims to raise the number to at least 30 million by 2030. Finland, meanwhile, should have around 700 000 plug-in vehicles buzzing on its roads, according to a roadmap published by the Ministry of Transport and Communications in May.
Sensible 4 testing self-driving software outside Nordics
Sensible 4, the Finnish software developer behind the self-driving shuttle bus GACHA, reported in September that it is launching a pilot of a level-four autonomous shuttle bus in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, with Swiss Transit Lab. The bus it to be introduced to the public transport system as a last-mile option between the train station, a former industrial zone and a newly developed urban district for the next two years in order to pave the way for more widespread use of self-driving buses.
The Swiss town offers an interesting setting for the trial due to its varying weather, surrounding hills and medieval city centre with narrow streets, according to the startup.
Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4, pointed out that autonomous vehicles must be attractive for the consumer to ensure they are a viable alternative to car ownership and, as a result, help to alleviate the strain placed on the climate by road transport.
“Shared, electric and driverless vehicles will offer new services that will take people to the places they want to go comfortably, safely and effortlessly in a sustainable way.”
The Espoo-based software developer pointed out that the pilot, similarly to all its pilots, will also seek to fine-tune its self-driving software to support the introduction of autonomous vehicles to public roads.
It reported last autumn that two vehicles equipped with the software are scheduled to hit the roads in the city of Bodø, Norway, in February 2022. The custom-built fully electric vehicles will operate in mixed traffic on a 3.6-kilometre route in the city centre, supporting the local public transport system.
“Self-driving fleet operation on public streets in urban areas is challenging for any autonomous technology. Doing it in a city located above the Arctic Circle is even more challenging,” said Santamala.
In Tampere, Finland, autonomous vehicles will be used as a last-mile solution to feed passengers to a new tram line as of early 2022. The 3.5-kilometre trial route with seven stops has been operational since January.
Basemark launches OS, Forciot starts collaboration
Finland’s Basemark in September announced the launch of the world’s first end-to-end operating system for software-defined vehicles, capable of handling all vehicle functions from drivetrain to steering and cockpit electronics.
The system promises to create substantial time and unit-cost savings to automotive manufacturers, enabling them to accelerate the development of a new car platform by as much as a year and wiping out hundreds of euros in per-car production costs, according to Tero Sarkkinen, chief executive of Basemark.
“Basemark’s Rocksolid Core architecture requires fewer processors compared to conventional models, resulting in savings in both electronics and software,” he told. “Customers are able to rapidly develop mission-critical functions and not waste time in developing a base platform.”
The operating system is presently in the pilot development stage, with a proof-of-concept vehicle to be launched later this year.
Forciot, a Tampere-based developer of force, touch and motion sensors, revealed last autumn that it has added a number of new backers, including Gentherm. Forciot and Gentherm also announced a business collaboration with the aim of developing sensors with the potential to be integrated in vehicle interiors, such as steering wheels, for the hands-on-detection functionality of advanced driver assistance systems.
The equity funding round also drew follow-up investments from Heraeus Holding and Volvo Car Technology Fund.
The Finnish startup has caught the attention of automotive industry heavyweights with its stretchable electronics and algorithm solution that not only functions as a touch sensor on car interiors, but also measures and reports force, weight, balance and pressure. Its sensor solutions made their debut in North America at CES Las Vegas in January 2022 as as part of a new concept car by Volvo.
“The automotive industry is changing extremely fast, and we see potential opportunities with Forciot’s stretchable electronics and sensor technology to address the challenges that our customers are facing today and in the future,” viewed Phil Eyler, CEO of Gentherm.
Zhejiang Geely, a Chinese company to be acquired by Volvo, in September announced its decision to set up a development and innovation centre focusing on traffic solutions in Oulu, Finland. Set up with Oulu-based Kaira Clan and Gothenburg-based China Euro Vehicle Technology (CEVT), the centre is expected to create business opportunities especially for local companies with expertise in electronics and mobile communication.
Originally published in October 2021