DETROIT – Schaeffler, the German automotive supplier best known for bearings, torque converters, clutches and other tried-and-true powertrain components, is expanding its portfolio in anticipation that electric vehicles and hybrids will make up 50% of vehicle sales by 2020.
Here at the North American International Auto Show, the supplier debuts its eSolutions concept, which deploys a host of cutting-edge technologies designed to boost energy efficiency and ensure a wide range of mobility.
The concept integrates a 2-cyl. gasoline engine, double-clutch transmission, hybrid module (clutch with electric motor), rear electric axle and eWheelDrive wheel hub motor, self-leveling suspension, electric roll-stabilization system and electronic control system.
Also on display is Schaeffler’s ACTIVeDRIVE electric axle, which consists of an electric differential mounted on the front or rear axle. Power can be controlled for each wheel individually, enabling torque vectoring, which distributes torque between the right and left wheels for better driving dynamics and optimum traction.
Schaeffler already supplies clutches, bearings and other products for hybrid-electric vehicles currently on the road and will begin marketing these latest EV components directly to auto makers, says Peter Gutzmer, chief technology officer.
Gutzmer tells WardsAuto the supplier is in an advanced stage of development with its electric axle for various customers. He expects the axle will be in production by 2014.
The first application likely will be only on the rear axle of a hybrid vehicle with an internal-combustion engine that drives the front wheels, Gutzmer says. A start/stop system also will be integrated.
Helping auto makers boost fuel economy has become a core mission for Schaeffler as strict government regulations loom.
In October, Schaeffler demonstrated at a media event in metro Detroit a Porsche Cayenne prototype loaded with a 4.8L V-8 and several technologies designed to boost fuel economy 10%.
The Cayenne concept integrates Schaeffler technologies such as twin tandem roller bearings in the differential and wheel hubs; electromechanical cam phasing on the exhaust and intake valves; a new valvetrain with switchable intake tappets capable of both low lift and high lift, depending on load; and lightweight low-friction exhaust tappets.
Also onboard, from Porsche, is an intake-port deactivation system that works in harmony with Schaeffler’s offerings by closing one of two intake ports, which reduces the amount of air and fuel drawn into the combustion chamber and improves combustion by ensuring better swirl.
Schaeffler engineers tell WardsAuto the vehicle will run with one intake valve completely closed about 70% of the time, based on the European driving cycle. During acceleration, both intake valves are active to supply the necessary air and fuel.
Overall, Schaeffler management is optimistic about its business prospects in North America. Bruce Warmbold, president and CEO of Schaeffler Group USA, says the industry downturn in 2009 took its toll on the supplier, briefly.
“The expectation was that it would take many years before we got back to 2008 levels, but that pretty much happened by 2010,” Warmbold tells WardsAuto. “Our OEM business grew 25% last year, and it was up over 30% the year before.”
Warmbold predicts double-digit growth in North America in 2012. “The market expectation is perhaps an increase of 5%-6%. We will grow more than double that.”
The dry double-clutch represents a significant growth sector for Schaeffler, which began producing the units at the end of 2010 in Puebla, Mexico. This year, production calls for 700,000 units, Warmbold says.
Ford is the primary customer for the module, which appears in the auto maker’s PowerShift dual-clutch transmission on vehicles such as the Focus.
Early in the launch of the Focus, customers complained the transmission, which can operate in manual or automatic mode, was subject to abrupt shifting in first and second gears. Those issues have been corrected, Warmbold says.
“There had to be some tuning relative to what people were used to” with conventional planetary-gear automatic transmissions, he says. “Now, what we hear more of is the fun-to-drive aspect of it. As this tuning is taking place, we see a real future for it. The reactions we are getting now are very positive.”