The recently concluded International Automobile Exhibition (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany saw manufacturers showcasing concepts, as well as new products, focused on performance with efficiency. This year saw the entry of a number of electric powered vehicles (EV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), with a magnified focus on the efficiency of petrol and diesel engines, combined with lighter and stronger chassis designs. The core theme that could be derived from the exhibition was that of electric mobility and efficient driving.
Manufacturers were seen presenting EVs and HEVs in all vehicle segments, encompassing passenger vehicles, crossovers, super cars, and even small commercial vehicles. The capability of producing reliable, everyday vehicles, with the weight and usability of a normal combustion engine vehicle was something focussed upon by almost all the companies. Hybrids and bi-fuel concepts also showed that a vehicle that offers high power to its driver could return reasonably good fuel efficiency as well.
KEY TECHNOLOGIES SHOWCASED
Two star attractions at the BMW stall were the i3 and i8. While the i3 showed the possibility of EVs being practical for regular everyday use, the i8 was positioned as a hybrid sports car that seats four. The i3 is the company’s first complete EV that is compact and best suited for city use. Its electric drive system and battery have been developed and produced by BMW Group. Both cars have the BMW eDrive electric motors and carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cells.
The Harman Kardon audio system has been redesigned for both the BMW i3 and i8, taking into account the specifications of an electric vehicle. The system includes the battery status and a charging station database with real-time updates available, to inform the driver about the possibility of the completion of a certain route. The HARMAN system takes the various driving modes, traffic conditions and routes into consideration in assessing the range.
A key showcase from motorsports technology was Renault’s fully-electric single-seater race car, called SRT_01E that was designed and built by Spark Racing Technology. The car marks the advent of electric powertrain in a racing series organised by FIA. Renault had the duty of overseeing all systems integration, performance optimisation, and powertrain electrical safety. The electric motor, gearbox and electronics were provided by McLaren Electronics Systems, and Williams Advanced Engineering designed and supplied batteries and the battery management systems that produce the equivalent of 270 hp.
The SRT_01E is claimed to combine the most advanced technologies in electric drivetrains, while designing aerodynamics to make overtaking easier. The car’s battery has its own survival cell, weighs 200 kg and is registered according to international transport standards. The car is set to compete in the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship – the first global electric race series beginning in September 2014. The SRT_01E’s monocoque chassis has been made from carbon fibre and aluminium, and will fully comply with the 2014 FIA crash tests. Since racing cars have generally served as test beds for upcoming road-going technology, the SRT_01E could spark a similar trend, leading to safer and performance-oriented technologies for EVs.
One example of a vehicle developed with the demand of small cars, with low running costs and low emissions, was the bi-fuel model of the Kia Picanto small car. The car has a three-cylinder, 1 l kappa engine which delivers 66 hp, and 90 Nm of torque. The engine can also switch the car to run on LPG by the touch of a button on the dashboard. The engine is fitted with an additional fuel system featuring a solenoid valve, vaporiser, a gas filter and an injector module, to process the LPG. Some of the engine features include dual CVVT, a cast aluminium block, off-set crankshaft, maintenance-free long-life timing chain and low-friction ‘bee-hive’ valve springs. The car has two fuel tanks, with the 35 l petrol tank in the regular position ahead of the rear axle and a 27 l pressurised LPG tank located beneath the trunk floor. The car is claimed to return a fuel economy of about 17 km/l, and will continue to be available in three-door and five-door versions. This car could be a good contender in the Indian market, if the company plans to release it here, given the increasing popularity of the fuel in the country.
In another exciting development, Jaguar revealed the C-X17, its first ever sports crossover concept vehicle, which was created as a design study to introduce the company’s all-new lightweight aluminium monocoque architecture. This architecture is known as iQ[Al], and is lightweight, stiff and incorporates innovative technologies to form the basis for a new range of future cars. The first product will be a mid-size C/D segment premium sedan that will be on sale in 2015, and will be the first aluminium monocoque product in the segment. This architecture will enable Jaguar to offer vehicles with class-leading performance, including top speeds of over 300km/h, and CO2 emissions lower than 100 g/km. The iQ[Al] architecture will be modular and scalable, providing a high degree of flexibility and making it possible to produce a wide range of models and derivatives. This flexibility will enable the manufacture of different products on the same production line at the same time.
Another attraction at the show was the launch of Ferrari’s 458 Speciale, which is powered by a 4.5 l V8 GDI engine, and is mated to a seven-speed F1 dual clutch transmission. The top feature of this car is its mid-rear-mounted engine, which is said to be the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 that the company has ever developed. It puts out about 597 hp and has peak torque of 540 Nm at 6000 rpm, and its 133 hp/l specific power output is the highest ever achieved by a naturally aspirated road-going engine. While most new supercars presently have turbocharged engines, Ferrari managed to stick to a naturally aspirated engine by using technology right from its F1 cars. The car indicates that supercar makers still have some room to play with gasoline engine technology, when pursuing performance.
Redesigning various engine components and reducing internal friction resulted in the car’s increased power, with pistons being made from a new material that reduces overall mass. The crankshaft was also redesigned to optimise and improve lubrication of the main bearings in all conditions of use. With regards to the bodywork, most panels have been redesigned without modifying the passenger cell or design features of the 458 Italia. However, the thickness of the glass used has been reduced to cut weight.
The IAA also saw BMW Motorrad launching its e-scooter, C evolution, which is capable of putting out continuous power of 15 hp, and a peak output of 47 hp. It is claimed to reach a maximum speed of 120 km/h and has a range of up to 100 km, which can be extended by 10 % to 20 % depending on riding style. When plugged into a standard 220 V domestic socket with a 12 A charge current, recharging fully from empty takes around four hours. The e-scooter is powered by an 8 kWh capacity high-voltage lithium-ion battery that is air-cooled. The new C evolution is also available with Torque Control Assist (TCA), which limits the motor’s torque depending on the slip at the rear wheel.
From an Indian perspective, electric two-wheelers took off a long time back but couldn’t sustain the initial momentum, primarily due to technical challenges. BMW’s scooter is not an answer for our market given the high cost of batteries, but it does prove the improving practicality of electric two-wheelers from a range and performance perspective.
TRENDS AMONG SUPPLIERS
On the suppliers’ front, Bosch revealed a number of its latest automotive technologies at the show. The company said its latest technologies have focused on making vehicles cleaner, safer and more comfortable, from using alternative fuels and predictive navigation, to in-car smartphone integration and parking assistance systems. Bosch also unveiled the smallest starter motor in the world, designed for small and lower cost cars, as well as new braking systems for hybrid and electric vehicles. The starter motor could be of great interest for the Indian market, given the cost and space benefits it offers.
On the autonomous driving front, Continental and IBM joined hands to develop fully-connected mobile vehicle solutions for car manufacturers in order to make automated driving a reality. The main feature of this agreement is to develop a cloud platform by which automotive manufacturers will be able to deliver a range of new mobile in-car services. Using this platform, software updates and vehicle control device functionalities can be delivered over the Internet, removing costly and inconvenient workshop visits.
IBM’s experience in cloud computing and embedded systems development capabilities, combined with Continental’s expertise in automotive electronics, create the foundation for a new generation of intelligent networked vehicles, said Dr Elmar Degenhart, Chairman, Executive Board, Continental. The potential scalability and flexibility of the upcoming service makes it ideal for mass-adoption in the coming years. Also, till the time automated driving becomes a reality, spin-off features from the service could be used to improve car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure connectivity.
The convergence of automotive and IT industries will enable manufacturers to integrate multimedia mobile services and personalised in-car experience, with the goal of building truly connected vehicles, which are secure. In future, vehicles embedded with sensors will not only receive data, but will also transmit information such as position, speed or deceleration to the cloud. This data will then be processed, analysed and acted upon, with the result being a real-time map that will enable a vehicle to literally look ahead.
The themes of electric and hybrid mobility, dual-fuel capability of engines, and lightweight construction of bodies and chassis were the highlights of this year’s IAA. Automakers are employing high levels of technology and developing vehicles to be as efficient as possible. With the rise in fuel costs, and stringent emission norms being applied by governments, there is automatically a necessity for manufacturers to adapt to the changing environment.
Parts suppliers are also forced to modify components according to the performance that is expected out of the new vehicles. Certain component manufacturers are seen to be ahead of the race, and are even developing products for vehicles that are seen as future releases. Irrespective of the challenges surrounding electric mobility, it is clear that carmakers are not shying from investing in the prospects. The transition period though will be managed by pushing the efficiency of internal combustion engines. This will take place through numerous technologies such as lightweighting, powertrain optimisation and hybrids and if that is the roadmap, the industry seems well equipped for what is in store in the coming years.