TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Acknowledging it’s a large technological jump from internal-combustion powertrains – and even hybrids – to full-blown electric vehicles, German mega-supplier Continental says its 48V “Eco Drive” technology could become an effective bridge to increasing degrees of vehicle electrification.
Speaking on a panel at the Management Briefing Seminars here, Kregg Wiggins, Continental North America’s senior vice president-powertrain, says Eco Drive is an electric machine designed to be incorporated into a combustion-engine powertrain in one of two fashions: either as a more-powerful but relatively low-cost belt-driven replacement for the engine’s conventional alternator or integrated into the transmission as a higher-feature, higher-cost drive-augmentation device.
Continental recently told journalists there are six automakers planning to launch Eco Drive within the next two years.
Wiggins says Eco Drive in effect creates a vehicle with enhanced electric capabilities he terms a “low-voltage hybrid-electric vehicle.”
For reasonable cost, he says, either Eco Drive configuration is a “progression into full electrification” and can demonstrate “fairly significant (fuel-economy) benefit on the drive cycles.”
The belt-driven Eco Drive variant easily could be incorporated into an existing vehicle, Wiggins says, simply replacing the existing alternator. It could provide satisfying, almost instantaneous engine restarts, a boon for the coming deeper penetration in North America of engine stop/start systems, Wiggins says. The belt-driven machine also could enable certain other attractive accessories and features.
A 48V Eco Drive unit incorporated into the transmission can enable a higher order of fuel-saving functionality. With the electric machine integrated into the automatic transmission, the engine could be “downspeeded” during certain drive conditions, as the machine’s “boost” to the transmission enables fuel-saving strategies such as early upshifting, Wiggins says.
The more-sophisticated, transmission-located Eco Drive unit also could provide enough electric oomph to heat the exhaust catalysts, saving fuel normally used in the engine’s cold-start phase to heat the catalysts.
Wiggins says the transmission-integral Eco Drive system could enable other powertrain and vehicle synergies such as engine combustion optimization and “active coasting” that allows decoupling of the engine during light-load driving.
Stacking all the fuel-saving possibilities, Wiggins says, delivers fuel savings up to 17% with a 3-cyl. gasoline engine Continental has used as a test bed. The engine is Ford’s highly regarded (and already quite efficient) 1.0L available in the U.S. market in the Fiesta subcompact and Focus compact cars.