VW Group wakes up to the future

  • 08-Aug-2011 01:52 EDT
Winterkorn7-11 1 Reflect.jpg

VW Group and Porsche SE Chairman Martin Winterkorn reflects on the advance of future technology.

When Dr. Martin Winterkorn wakes up each morning he does not just lie for a moment considering the needs of one company that day: he considers the needs of the nine that together constitute the massive VW Group, plus his newest responsibility, Porsche SE. It may sound not merely a challenging task but a daunting one.

But among the agglomeration is a keystone of the Group’s success—its widespread network of cross-linking technology and shared expertise that allows each member, directly or indirectly, to support the other, without compromising brand identity.

When clear R&D delineation is necessary — such as lead responsibility for front or rear wheel drive, or longitudinal or lateral engine configurations — it is neatly subdivided and shared again.

As Winterkorn told AEI, “At the VW Group, we follow a simple but successful multibrand philosophy based on independence and co-operation.

“It means that every brand has its own headquarters and development centers, engineers, and designers. The brands have full responsibility for their products and the satisfaction of their customers. At the same time, we collaborate closely at Group level regarding research, sourcing, production, and market strategies to make full use of the synergies.”

Now, Porsche’s arrival within the VW fold (the companies are working toward establishing an alliance rather than Porsche being part of the Group) brings an added dimension of intellectual, expertise, and technology sharing.

Hybrid tech for Bentley?

Wolfgang Duerheimer, formerly Head of Development at Porsche, is now Chairman of Bentley, which in turn has strong technology links with other high-end products within the Group. He is also President and CEO of Bugatti SA and Motorsport Director for the VW Group, adding up to a combination of ultrahigh luxury and ultrahigh performance.

Duerheimer’s responsibilities have included Porsche’s development of the hybrid Panamera and Cayenne and of the successful racing 911 GT3R hybrid. The technology is of considerable interest to Bentley, whose products need to be capable of generating tremendous power and performance but also exemplary low decibel levels—and emissions—in some circumstances.

All this folds neatly into Winterkorn’s strategic plans. For as he ponders the day ahead with its many salient issues to consider, one that permeates more and more aspects of the companies he oversees is the whole complex business of electromobility.

But he is careful to give a balanced, objective assessment of the situation, being aware of what he regards as initially exaggerated expectations of the potential of electric technology and its timing.

“According to present forecasts, around 90% of all new vehicle registrations in 2020 will have a combustion engine, 9% will have electric or hybrid drive, and 1% will be powered by a fuel cell," he said. "For pure electric vehicles we expect an overall market share (registration of new cars) of 2-3% of our model range in 2020.”

Winterkorn feels that common sense and an appreciation of the future task—which, he believes, will dominate the rest of the auto industry for the rest of the century—is producing much required realism, with a far more objective view of what is possible and when.

While plug-in systems now head his list of preferred EV technology solutions because they provide both long distance and city transport solutions together with lower purchase price than a battery-electric vehicle, he concedes that battery-powered (or at some point in the future, fuel cell-powered) cars would be apposite for shorter distances and city travel.

Lithium-oxygen batteries

The battery downside of weight, range capability, and cost (lithium-ion batteries can cost 500-700 euros per kW·h, which means a 25-kW·h battery could reach 25,000 euros) is as much a problem for VW Group as it is for every other OEM, although Winterkorn said that his company had what he termed “a good idea” with regard to reducing the price of batteries by at least 25%.

As a metals physicist (he received his doctorate in 1977 at the Max-Planck-Institute) and materials specialist, Winterkorn would be expected to focus on weight-saving structures as a route to vehicle efficiency. He does so via Audi and Lamborghini in particular, but it is metal-air battery potential that he also finds very interesting.

Winterkorn describes lithium-ion batteries as just an interim solution: “They weigh 250 kg, provide 25 kW·h, and still only provide a range of around 150 km at best. We will definitely increase efficiency in the years to come by improving energy density and that means more active ions in the cathode and anode. But ultimately, we need new materials such as silicon compounds.

“Only then will we be able to increase the specific cell energy from the present 140 W·h/kg to 250 W·h/kg. And even greater progress could be achieved with new approaches, such as lithium-oxygen batteries that could multiply today’s range by a factor of four or five.”

Such possible solutions are still in research and Winterkorn believes that they will not be available before 2025, so he is convinced that there is still a long way to go before, in mass-marketing terms, the electric car is suitable for daily use at the right cost.

Preparing the product blitz

Four major challenges remain: to perfect technologies from the battery to power electronics; to bring down costs to competitive levels (particularly with regard to the battery); to ensure an environmentally friendly source of electricity (a VW Golf BlueMotion produces 111 g of CO2/km (a comparable electric car powered by electricity from brown coal produces 188 g/km; with EU fuel mix this is 88 g/km but only with the aid of nuclear power); and to set up the necessary infrastructure.

Electric mobility would only be truly viable when a car could be powered by electricity generated from renewable sources of energy.

Winterkorn also emphasized the need for OEMs, suppliers, energy providers, scientists, and politicians to work together to meet the challenge of electromobility.

In the medium to long term, mass mobility will still depend upon the co-existence of different powertrain technologies, with natural gas and bio fuels being used alongside more efficient gasoline and diesel-fueled engines—and electric drive systems.

The VW’s Golf blue-e-motion and e-up! will be in production in 2013, but test fleets are to be launched shortly. Audi is already producing a hybrid version of the Q5 (VW has a hybrid Touareg), and by late 2012 the first electric Audi, the exotic R8 e-tron, will enter limited production. A range-extended Audi A1 exists in concept form.

Porsche’s current road-going hybrids are scheduled to be joined by the plug-in 918 Spyder now in development.

The 918 is an exotic sports car but the mainstream future of electric cars will be more prosaic. However, the practical e-Golf’s technology is reasonably advanced. Its lithium-ion battery comprises 30 modules with 180 cells and has a capacity of 26.5 kW·h. The powertrain is under the hood. An 80-kW max (50-kW continuous) electric motor is fitted. A pulse inverter, together with a 12V DC/DC converter and the charger, make up the integral powertrain.

The e-Golf has a maximum range of 150 km, which is par for the course for this type of technology.

But, says Winterkorn, his caution showing again, a Golf TDI (diesel) can manage about 1500 km.

"Furthermore, the e-car’s range in a town or city is reduced by a further 40 km when a load of just 1 kW is switched on," he noted. "This is about the same amount of energy you need to heat the car when the outside temperature is 7ºC. Additional loads or traffic jams will reduce the range even more.

"However, for short distances of 50-60 km a day in a city, this would theoretically still be enough," he continued. "Our customers expect, and quite rightly so, a greater range, and with it greater flexibility and reliability when driving.”

Power supply standardization

Winterkorn said that the VW Group’s modular assembly matrix allowed it to incorporate new types of powertrains into all production lines and brands.

Although this may ease the transition to electric motive power, he underlined that the electric car is far more than just a battery and an electric motor.

Speaking recently at the Vienna Motor Symposium, he said: “There is a whole range of existing components that must be modified as part of the electrification process. This is because the demands placed on these parts have changed, or because there is no longer a belt drive, and process heat is no longer produced by the ICE. I am referring to heating and air-conditioning but also to an electric car’s braking system.”

This involves adapting proven solutions to address new challenges in production and development. These include replanning and redesigning the layout of the entire plant, developing new methods of production, and training staff how to handle high-voltage systems, he said.

As the VW Group is a global organization, Winterkorn is particularly concerned about the lack of power supply standardization. “The worldwide electricity grid is more like a patchwork quilt than a fine Persian rug!" he exclaimed. "In the medium term we need a worldwide standardized charging interface.This applies to both electrical and mechanical requirements and to the technology that governs how the car and the charging station communicate with each other.”

Meanwhile, the ICE remains firmly in place. The VW Group as a whole is looking for an average 15% reduction of fuel consumption over the next 10 years. Winterkorn listed downsizing and downspeeding, innovative fuel injection technologies, turbocharging, and VW's dual-clutch gearboxes have managed to increase efficiency by 25% in the last 10 years.

"There is more to come, he said. "Another cornerstone is lightweight materials like CFRP." (VW has a stake in the U.S.-based carbon-fiber producer SGL.)

ICE development also includes cylinder pressure-based combustion shaping for diesels via multiple injections at a pressure of up to 2000 bar (over 29,000 psi). And friction optimization offers plenty of potential, he said.

As he turns out the light tonight, Martin Winterkorn may list it as yet another issue to ponder when he awakens to another Volkswagen Group and Porsche day.

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