How serious is Audi about the electrification of vehicles?
Consider this: during the past two years, the premium vehicle manufacturer has invested some €65-million (~$85-million) in a 14,000-sq. meter building on its Ingolstadt complex that is totally dedicated to developing drive systems, batteries, and power electronics for hybrids and full electric vehicles (EVs).
They have assigned approximately 840 people working in the development and testing center to the tasks of creating what they’re calling “e-mobility” solutions.
This is a thorough-going approach to development, with Audi engineers starting at the component level then working toward full vehicles. (Speaking of which: Look for a hybrid Q5 in the latter half of 2011 and an electric-powered R8—yes, an R8 EV—in late 2012.)
Along the way there is comprehensive simulation (there are more dSpace systems for hardware-in-the-loop operations deployed there than any other place I’ve visited), then physical component testing. There are those who are assigned to the electric driveline (i.e., the electric motor and the power electronics) while there are others that work on the high-voltage lithium-ion batteries (they’re sourcing batteries from Sanyo, and also working with A123 Systems and SB LiMotive, a joint venture between Bosch and Samsung). There are a variety of test rigs that the elements are put on, including those that are in environmental chambers that permit wide temperature variations.
There are dynos on site, which allow the engineers and technicians to combine the elements of a hybrid system (engine, transmission, motor) and then run the system through its paces under load. They are able to test systems that are designed for either front-wheel-drive or quattro applications under varying speeds and loads.
Then there is the full vehicle on the test bed. Again, there are varying conditions that the vehicles are exposed to, including elevations up to 4,200 meters and temperatures as low as -40°C. In addition to which, the vehicles can be operated at speeds up to 260 km/h.
Low Weight Audi
One interesting aspect of the development of the electrification activities at Audi is that the company continues to pursue its attention to weight. According to Jens Heitland, Lightweight Construction and Weight Monitoring, “Even for the electrical components Audi adheres strictly to a low weight. The power electronics in the Q5 hybrid quattro, a pulse-controlled inverter with an integrated DC/DC converter, weighs merely 9 kg—only half as much as its predecessor component from the Audi Q7 hybrid concept car.”
A more impressive weight save is one that is being deployed in the Audi A1 e-tron concept vehicle, which is similar in powertrain architecture to the Chevy Volt in that there is an internal combustion engine that’s used for generating electricity, not directly propelling the vehicle (yes, under certain circumstances this is not the case with the Volt, but I was specifically told that there is no mechanical connection in the case of the A-1 e-tron. As Heitland explained, “Underneath its luggage compartment lies a compact, lightweight rotary engine acting as a range extender by recharging the battery through a generator. The entire subassembly weighs only about 65 kg. This weight includes the generator, the special power electronics, the intake, exhaust and cooling systems, as well as acoustic encapsulation and the auxiliary frame.”
So while what’s under the hood may change (in the case of the aforementioned R8 e-tron, there are actually four asynchronous motors, two each on the front and rear axles; in the place of the engine that’s ordinarily located behind the passenger compartment, there are the lithium-ion battery that stores 53 kWh of energy and the associated power electronics), what isn’t changing is the detailed and deliberate engineering.
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