Automotive manufacturers are increasingly being pressured to cater to a variety of markets from small self-driving vehicles for megacities to extremely efficient drives for the SUVs and pick-ups preferred in rural areas.
This adds to the complexity of developing new vehicle and drive concepts. Adding to the challenge is the trend towards digital networking. “Schaeffler is contributing to helping the North American automotive industry respond to the major challenges the future holds,” says Marc McGrath, Schaeffler’s president of automotive for the Americas. “Schaeffler’s recent investments in local infrastructure and expertise will enable us to develop solutions for next generation vehicle architectures and innovations to address our customers’ needs.”
Schaeffler offers solutions for all requirements including a hybrid module for light duty vehicles, which make up approximately 60% of all new registrations in the United States. In order to meet the high comfort demands from its customers, the company has combined the electric motor with an integral hydrodynamic converter. Development of a production version of the module is already underway for a U.S. automotive manufacturer. Other innovations include an electric wheel hub drive which allows small, manoeuvrable self-driving taxis to be built for the urban environment.
“We think there is a real opportunity for electric drives in the North American market,” said Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive, and member of the management board of Schaeffler in a press release. To address this market Schaeffler has a new 48 volt system where an electric rear axle supplements the front axle drive which comprises a conventional internal combustion engine and belt-driven 48 volt starter generator. The arrangement is a completely new combination of the conventional P0 topology and an electric axle in a P4 arrangement. The electric motor and the associated power electronics are integrated into a single unit on the rear axle. Twenty kilowatts of purely electric power is thus permanently available from the 48 volt axle drive. The Schaeffler electric axle produces a starting torque of up to 2,000 Nm.
The 48 volt architecture allows different driving strategies to be selected in order to reduce CO2 emissions and increase driving dynamics, such as emissions-free, purely electric driving up to 35 km/h in areas where traffic is restricted. The vehicle can also cruise at speeds of up to 70 km/h. In the WLTC driving cycle, the majority of braking energy is recaptured as electrical energy and stored in the heavy-duty battery.
Another innovation is Schaeffler’s “E-Wheel Drive”, which allows drive technology to be relocated to the wheels. In wheel hub drives, all necessary components, such as the electric motor, the power electronics, brakes and cooling, are located within the wheel rim. This saves space that can be used for new interior design concepts. The wheel hub drive has an obvious application in self-driving taxis or nimble, autonomously driven passenger cars which will transport residents of large cities over short distances in the future. Developers also have their sights on new “people movers.” These are ultra-compact, autonomously driven vehicles will take passengers the “last mile” home after using traditional public transport systems.
“We have taken the predevelopment of the E-Wheel Drive to the point where we can now start to incorporate it into real-life projects,” said Sebastian Wielgos who leads the E-Wheel Drive development program at Schaeffler.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Zink how the company’s “Mobility for Tomorrow” strategy has evolved and why the North American market is the mainstay of the programme.
Zink: Our “Mobility for Tomorrow” program has been running for several years with ideas and concepts for hybridized and electric driving that we have demonstrated in different concept vehicles. The implementation of our strategy has gained significant momentum during the last two years due to the programs launched by OEMs for implementing electric mobility.
AI: What are some of the challenges facing automotive manufacturers today when developing new vehicles or concept vehicles?
Zink: One of the challenges is certainly the wide range of different solutions and volume scenarios that are currently available for internal combustion engines, hybrids, and for fully electrically-driven vehicles. As a result, it is not easy to work on the right issues with the right capacities. As a system partner for the automotive industry we seek a dialog with OEMs in order to exchange ideas for products and strategies. Our products and projects are becoming increasingly complex. In addition to purely mechanical systems, we are now involved in the development of electrical and electronic systems.
AI: What will be the single biggest factor for drivers over the next few years – fuel efficiency, safety, or connectedness?
Zink: If we consider the decisions taken at the climate conference in 2015 from a purely rational point of view, the issues of fuel efficiency and the reduction of CO2 emissions must have maximum priority. The targets confirmed at the conference can only be achieved if the technological change begins directly at the primary energy source. Connected and autonomous driving will certainly become a priority area because the enabling conditions are being created step by step through digitalization and new drives. Safety has been a priority in the automotive industry during the last decade, but it will be given new impetus by the issues of connectedness, sensors, and data.
AI: What technologies does Schaeffler have in its portfolio that are particularly aimed at the North American market?
Zink: In general, we can supply all the global technologies in North America. In the field of engine technology we now have modern systems ranging from valve train to cylinder deactivation technology. In the transmission sector, North America is the headquarters for the torque converter and we are now significantly expanding our capacities for hybrids and electric mobility.
AI: How is this different from other regions?
Zink: America is primarily a market for large-capacity vehicles and automatic transmissions. America is also the headquarters of the “big three” OEMs, and for this reason we have a high level of local development expertise to give us close proximity to our customers.
AI: How will your company’s E-Wheel Drive concept change the way vehicles are designed?
Zink: The E-Wheel Drive enables new vehicle concepts. For example, the space previously used for the drive could now be used for the installation of battery cells.
AI: What are some of the breakthroughs Schaeffler has made in hybrid vehicle technologies?
Zink: Schaeffler is vigorously pursuing the idea of using high-voltage 48V hybrid systems which reduce fuel consumption by almost 20%. We are also carrying out intensive research on new transmission structures for so-called dedicated hybrid transmissions. Likewise, we are working on the supposedly “simple” automation of manual transmissions as preparation for hybridization.
“Our “Mobility for Tomorrow” program has been running for several years with ideas and concepts for hybridized and electric driving that we have demonstrated in different concept vehicles.”