Jonathan Steffes on the Next-Gen Lubricants Powering EVs

Sign up for our popular daily email to catch all the latest EV news!

The EV Report recently caught up with Jonathan Steffes to learn more about FUCHS and how his company is playing a role in the industry’s transition to electric vehicles.

Steffes is a Business Development Manager at FUCHS Lubricants Co. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and has spent the entirety of his nearly 30-year career in the Automotive industry. For more than 15 years, Jonathan has worked with engineers to find lubrication solutions that tackle their most complex design challenges.

Could you tell us a little bit about your experience in the lubrication industry? 

I have been working in the automotive industry my entire career. Over the past 15 years I’ve specifically focused on lubricants with a complete understanding of component design and plastic molding technology.

What is the biggest problem you’re hearing from OEMs and tier suppliers today? 

Historically, it’s about reducing cost. Undeniably, electric vehicles are more expensive to produce. The current public charging infrastructure still requires updating with improved availability. This lack of charging infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges of making electric vehicles more mainstream. The recharge times need to be reduced for widescale consumer adoption and since many of these pieces are still not fully in place, forecasting volumes becomes essentially a guessing game at this point. Another issue facing OEMs and tiered suppliers is the elimination of PFAS within lubricants. Traditionally, PFAS-containing additives in lubricants were considered key to overcoming contact and surface friction. Lubricant suppliers are now tasked with engineering alternative additive packages that do not contain these ‘forever chemicals’ to comply with current and upcoming environmental regulations. 

Beyond the Engine: Jonathan Steffes on the Next-Gen Lubricants Powering EVs

How do the lubrication requirements differ between ICE and EVs? 

There is no need for traditional first-fill motor oils for full electric vehicles. However, specially formulated fluids for electric drive motors (gear cases) are required.  ICEs and EVs share common applications for lubricants supporting electrical contacts for connectors and switch applications, as well as interior componentry that improve the total cabin experience by reducing noise. EVs will contain a greater number of connectors to support their sensors and ancillary systems. As steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire become more of a reality, the need for robust electrical connections only increases. It is crucial, in the name of safety and longevity, that these systems do not fail. We know conclusively that connectors are a primary source of electrical system failures, and dielectric greases are widely known to prevent problems associated with connector fretting, oxidation, and plating abrasion. Adding these solutions as part of the vehicle build prevents expensive warranty claims and the erosion of brand image.

Driving range remains a top concern for OEMs. How can lubricants help OEMs extend the range of their electric vehicles? 

Specially formulated electric drive fluids reduce churning losses and friction to prevent lost energy to heat, thus increasing the overall range.  In addition, utilizing the appropriate forming lubricant, battery cans and body-in-white sheet metal can be made with aluminum and other lightweight materials that are traditionally more difficult to form than steel.

Electric batteries make up a majority of an electric vehicle’s cost. How can lubricants help ensure their reliability and longevity?  

Heat is the enemy of batteries and electronics. Controlling heat within the battery cell packs is critical. Various strategies are being employed, but lubricants such as dielectric fluids for immersion cooling and paste-like gap fillers all help to transfer heat buildup away from local battery cell hotspots to prevent thermal runaway (fire).

What lubrication requirements can we expect EV manufacturers to face in the coming years? 

Reduction in cabin noise is important now, but a fully electrified fleet will require a quieter experience due to the absence of an internal combustion engine. Also, safety becomes an even bigger concern with the advent of autonomous vehicles. Uncompromised electrical connections are critical to ensure all systems are functional to protect against intermittencies. 

What is a common misperception around automotive lubrication? 

Many times, lubricants not associated with engine lubrication or trans-axle applications tend to be considered a design flaw in that if properly engineered, the applications would not require lubrication. This is false. Specifically, connector lubricants that protect against fretting and corrosion on the contact points are crucial for maintaining continuity. Also, interior applications such as mechanical latches, visor assemblies, and closures require a lubricant to provide ease of motion, noise reduction, and extended component life.  

Sign up for our popular daily email to catch all the latest EV news!

Avatar photo
The EV Report

The EV Report is a digital platform dedicated to the global electric vehicle industry. It is a product of Hagman Media Group, and its mission is to inform, engage, and connect industry professionals and EV enthusiasts with relevant news and insights.