Top 5 powertrain technologies already driving the industry’s future

  • 14-Apr-2010 05:15 EDT
Dan Kapp Ford.jpg

Ford's Dan Kapp explained the benefits and challenges of downsized, boosted SI engines at the SAE 2010 World Congress. 

For a glimpse into the powertrain technologies that will most profoundly shape the auto industry’s near- and mid-term future, one need only look at what will be in production by the end of 2010.

Downsized, boosted gasoline engines; optimized 6-8-speed planetary and dual-clutch transmissions (DCT); various types of hybrid-electric drive; and battery electrics dominate the industry’s development plans today, and they’re expected to do so through the current decade and beyond, noted experts participating in the “Rising Out of the Ashes—The Top 5 Emerging Powertrain Technologies for 2010” panel session at the SAE 2010 World Congress in Detroit.

Speaking to a packed house in the FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum, panel moderator and MIT Prof. John Haywood observed, “These technologies really make a difference, and some will be very big in a volume-production sense.” He also predicted that hybrid types will change while the hybrid genre in general will certainly expand.

The panelists represented an excellent cross section of vehicle OEMs and technology suppliers. They included Dr. Uwe Grebe, Executive Director of Advanced Engineering at General Motors; Erwin Haas, Magna Powertrain’s Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer; Dan Kapp, Ford’s Director of Powertrain Research; Honda R&D Chief Engineer Hirohisa Ogawa; and Dr. Joachim Wolschendorf, Vice President of Vehicle System and Drivetrain Engineering at FEV Inc.

While the experts each presented the benefits and challenges of each of the tech areas noted above, all agreed that the internal-combustion engine (ICE) will continue to be the primary propulsion source for vehicles for at least the next two decades.

“Spark-ignition will be the mainstay for some time to come,” noted Ford’s Kapp. He added that increasing levels of vehicle electrification will help extend the ICE’s life.

Kapp’s presentation on the downsized/boosted engine trend—a logical topic for a Ford engineer, he quipped—detailed Ford’s powertrain technology strategy now guiding the company globally. His superb charts clearly highlighted the operational benefits of the so-called EcoBoost engines, but Kapp also noted the challenges of turbocharged, smaller-displacement engines moving forward.

“The limitation of EcoBoost becomes ‘knock,’” he explained. “Technologies we’re working on to mitigate knock include cooled EGR and ethanol,” he said.

Kapp sees full-range EGR and various forms of lean combustion—“and they may or may not include HCCI”—extending the basic ICE’s headroom even further into the future. Development is driving greater CAE and experimental capabilities within Ford Research, Kapp said.

Magna’s Haas showed the increased penetration trends of 6-8-speed automatic transmissions along with DCTs, the latter requiring continued cost reduction. NVH countermeasures at the transmission will also be needed to cope with the greater NVH of downsized (particularly four-cylinder) engines, he noted.

Haas also detailed two powertrain component developments—electric coolant pumps and electric oil pumps—that will help enable more efficient powerplants.

Osawa from Honda gave a very comprehensive look at Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid-drive architecture. He also clearly explained the five basic electric-drive system types which he predicts will predominate. The five include four hybrids (so-called micro; parallel; power-split or two-mode; series or extended-range) and battery EVs.

Honda is investigating extended-range hybrids, which employ an ICE as an onboard generator that engages when battery state of charge drops to the design minimum. "Electrification is key to CO2 reduction,” Osawa noted.

GM’s Grebe recapped his company’s multiple-path approach to vehicle electrification, noting the strategies behind the Two-Mode hybrid and the Voltec range-extender system that will debut on the 2011 Chevrolet Volt later this year.

“PHEVs only provide a partial petroleum displacement,” he asserted, “because their primary fuel is always petroleum and they always require a blend of the ICE and electric motor to deliver torque to the wheels.”

Grebe’s presentation was a perfect segue into Wolschendorf’s discussion on battery EVs. “The question isn’t whether they’re arriving—it’s how soon and how many,” he said.

The FEV executive told the audience he believes fleet use of EVs “is the best way to get customer feedback and engineering insight,” noting his company’s recent collaboration with Better Place to develop and deliver a fleet of eleven Renault Laguna EVs for extended road testing in Israel, which is creating one of the world’s first extensive vehicle-charging networks.

The main challenge for EVs in the next decade will be the lack of infrastructure needed to support their operation. “The consensus is EVs won’t replace ICEs in the next 20 years,” Wolschendorf said.

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