Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology
Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.
The story underneath
The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.
SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.
T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets.
The First Car
SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.
The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle
The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of.
The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.
Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.
SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln
SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.
In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.
SF Motors is making its own battery cells
It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.
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Look out, Tesla and Mercedes!
Henrik Fisker is back with a successor to the Karma, which he calls the Fisker EMotion. His new electric sports GT, which debuted at the CES in Las Vegas, will challenge the EV purveyors to the rich and famous when it debuts at the end of 2019.
A design-forward re-entry to the EV business
The slinky, curvy four- or five-seat sedan will be built from carbon fiber and aluminum to save weight. The unique design features four butterfly doors with touch-sensitive sensors, for a dramatic effect and easy entry and exit. And you won’t forget your key—you can open the car with your smartphone.
The EMotion is expected to rocket from 0-60 mph in under three seconds, thanks to a 575-kW (780 horsepower) motor fed by a whopping 143-kWh battery.
New Battery Tech
This Tesla Model S competitor will up the ante with more than 400 miles of range on a charge. And those charges should be quick. Fisker claims the new battery will accumulate 125 miles of range in a mere nine minutes. For even greater convenience, in 2023, Fisker’s cars are slated to move to solid state batteries with two-and-a-half times the capacity of today’s lithium-ion batteries. These will offer incredible one-minute charging, per Fisker.
Open for business–send cash
With five Lidar sensors and connected systems, the EMotion is expected to offer Level 4 autonomy.
Naturally, all is gorgeous inside. Under the electrochromatic tinted roof, leather is standard, but you can order a vegan-friendly interior. The driver gets three display screens, and rear passengers can enjoy their own screens, too.
Taking the Tesla marketing style as a model, the California-based Fisker, Inc. will sell cars directly to consumers through Fisker Experience Centers; eventually, the company hopes to build more than 400.
Plan on spending at least $129,900 for an EMotion. Send in your refundable deposit of $2,000 and you can be one of the lucky first buyers on the list. See https://www.fiskerinc.com for details.
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48-Volt Hybrids+Advanced Cylinder Deactivation Is Coming
I have driven the car of the future. Not some distant, expensive, exotic future, but a future that is going to start to define the cars you drive over the next few years. To check off the usual suspects—the car didn’t fly, wasn’t self-driving and wasn’t even fully electric or fueled by hydrogen. But it was electrified with a small battery and contained an engine packed with brand-new software.
The car of the near-future still uses gas, but ups the efficiency quotient
The car was provided by one of the world’s top automotive suppliers—Delphi Technologies—and demonstrated a side of the “future car” discussion sometimes lost here in Silicon Valley where I reside. We are going through revolutionary times—yes—but the future may end up being defined by more incremental changes.
The changes inside the Volkswagen Passat I drove were born out of the software revolution and battery advances coming out of Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the automotive world, but their implementation in a car is subtle. The computer power in a modern automobile continues to grow. This software taps into it to wring more efficiency from a traditional engine at minimal cost. Dropping a battery into a car is old news at this point, but the costs of doing it has been dropping this past decade, while the power derived from a battery continues to grow.
Two Key Factors
Sometimes we may forget that car companies are not there just to turn out world-changing, dazzling new machines. For most auto companies–the bottom line is the bottom line. They’re in business to make money as well as cars, much as are the technology and supplier companies contributing the parts and pieces that make up a modern automobile. Electric cars are great, but they are expensive and are not yet selling at volumes high enough to drive down costs draatically.
Another factor are government regulations worldwide that are driving auto companies to lower-CO2 cars, with electrification is the logical path to get there. So, for a profit-driven automaker (and that’s all of them), the quest is to electrify and drive down emissions (and increase fuel efficiency) at the most reasonable cost.
Suppliers live to solve automakers problems. They recognize that while they have one foot in the present, solving immediate issues of cost and volume production, they also have to address longer term solutions. So Dephi has a division focused on full electric powertrains and plans to bring that into the mix during the coming years.
In the meantime, as CTO Mary Gustanski said at a recent media briefing: “In 2025 95 percent of all light-duty vehicles will still have internal combustion engines,” but will still have to meet stringent emissions regulations and remain affordable. Gustanski sees Delphi as having the value proposition that gives automakers the biggest fuel economy boost for the least cost. The technologies are:
Gustanski added that Delphi’s secret sauce is system integration, which is where the cost is wrung out of the package. The Passat I drove with the system claimed to deliver at least a 15 percent CO2 reduction (they’re aiming for 20 percent) with increased low-end torque for improved acceleration and seamless start-stop operation. The incremental cost is in the hundreds of dollars to the OEM, according to Delphi. The company expects systems like this, incorporating 48-volt batteries, to grab 20 percent of the new car market by 2025.
Scott Bailey, Tula Technology’s CEO, called this “smarter fuel efficiency,” using the increased computer power found in a vehicle to “dynamically right-size the engine.” Its Dynamic Skip Fire (DSF) system uses algorithms added to the engine control software only run as many cylinders as are needed under each different driving situation. The driver controls the action via the accelerator. Ask for more power and it is there; coast down and the engine rests. The Tula software also factors in engine balance so its operation is transparent to the operator.
We’ve had a trial run with the Tula software before and were impressed with its functionality. Adding in a 48-volt hybrid battery takes the system to a new level. The fuel economy gains may not be as dramatic as a plug-in hybrid, but the cost of the system promises to bring exceptional fuel economy and a better driving experience to a broad range of cars. Although neither Delphi or Tula would disclose the manufacturer, they said the DSF package as a stand-alone is already getting close to production while they expect the eDSF package to follow soon after. But both supplier companies also added that they think they can wring even more efficiency out of the old ICE. So hang on.
New Engine Tech
In a competitive sport, there are at least two approaches to getting a win. One is to go for the knock-out punch, overwhelming your opponent with power, skill and strength. It’s risky and can be costly if you have a misstep. Think surprise knockout by a challenger going against an overconfident foe. A second strategy is the one for the long game–
The car of the future may be more like today’s — but better
if we’re sticking with the boxing analogy, think Ali’s rope-a-dope. Keep in the game by wearing down your opponent by being better, getting in a few more punches, playing a smarter and better game.
The auto industry is no boxing match; it’s closer to a rugby scrum on some days, but the tactics above are often on display. Delphi Technologies, the automotive powertrain and propulsion portion of what once was Delphi (the other, now separate part is Aptiv, which is focused on mobility solutions, smart vehicle architectures and connected cars). While they are developing electric car technology, they see a long game with the internal combustion engine and will be showcasing some of their latest counterpunches at CES next week. Their punch–take a sophisticated cylinder deactivation technology and mate it with 48-volt mild electrification for substantial fuel economy gains with no loss of performance.
Flash Drive: Clean Fleet Report “Flash Drives” are concise reviews of vehicles that include the major points and are easy and quick to read. A “Flash Drive” is often followed later by a comprehensive test drive review.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Phoenix–the Junk Yard Dog That Took Home the Record
Eric Lundgren, creator of the concept called Hybrid Recycling and Founder of IT Asset Partners, was out to take his junkyard dog BMW electric car with 90 percent recycled parts and make a run for a Guinness Record. Built at a cost of $13,800 in 45 days with no R&D and three-year-old batteries repackaged from broken cells, “The Phoenix” was going to challenge the current record for the furthest distance driven by an electric car on a single charge. The record was held by a very professional Japanese effort that set the benchmark at 800 miles, driving on a very level track.
Eric Lundgren talks electric cars, Hybrid Recycling and record runs
Eric talked with us about The Phoenix: “The controller came out of a forklift. The charger came out a very old DC electric vehicle. The compressor for the power brakes came out of an old air conditioner. The pump came out of a fish tank. The whole thing is made out of trash – the car itself was dragged out of a junkyard.”
All up The Phoenix weighs 4,200 pounds with the 200-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Eric’s plan was to take The Phoenix and run it for as close to 48 hours as possible on the less than level Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.
Intriguing! What could it hurt to attend this Guinness Book attempt? Spirit Airlines could hurt, their logo should be in the dictionary next to the word “incompetent.” We landed three hours late and missed meeting some really interesting people. To get to the track we borrowed a mobile cocoon from Toyota called the Prius Prime. The Prime proved to be the perfect tool for heavy LA traffic. Flicking on the adaptive cruise control to cope with football signal velocity drift and stop–0/25/75/40/0 (MPH) hike–or maybe drive; hey, it’s LA. We were driving the current most advanced (practical) vehicle drivetrain to get to observe what is expected to be the future’s most advanced (practical) vehicle drivetrain. Bonus points–56 MPG! It was nice that the Prius Prime relieved some of the angst of driving in from LAX.
Finally at the Track
When we finally pulled in at 9:15 p.m., we found Eric Lundgren running on adrenaline. At that point he had already been up for close to 48 hours. Eric told us that the sweet spot for a maximum distance was 28 mph, where there would be little aerodynamic drag. His plan was to go to 30-to-35 mph for a hoped-for 1,200 miles. (He anticipated he could achieve 1,000 miles.) In this configuration The Phoenix had already demonstrated a 740 mile range–on the highway!
It was a race against time and technology
From the drive, Spencer (no last name): “We have to limit our speed. We need to keep the whole journey under 50 amps. I didn’t think that we could ever do 39 amps at 50 mph. Earlier in the day we were not getting that kind of efficiency. Heat of the day, efficiency, mid-range of the battery. Every battery chemistry has its own profile for how it pulls amperage. This battery may be better in the mid-range.”
Eric and half of his crew appeared to be exhausted, but dedicated and totally absorbed in their efforts.
Eric at 10 p.m.: “Yesterday, when we turned this car on, wouldn’t you know that all of the calibrated settings were wiped. We connected the controller and one guy went ‘oops,’ and reset all the settings. To my AC motor. To my cruise control. I had to redo the regeneration. I had to redo all the settings. It took the entire night.”
The Phoenix had a set-back that cost eight of 48 hours available at Fontana–ouch.
The amperage readings soared as The Phoenix passed the start/finish line and began the mild uphill climb.
Finding the Right Gear
Eric, a little while later: “If you’re driving in fourth gear and you floor it, then you are just dumping energy and not getting anything out of it. We put in a cruise control and we can do a perfectly calibrated cruise setting but the entire track is slanted. We are going up a hill, down a hill, up a hill, down a hill, so we can’t do cruise control here. Two-thirds of the course I can put it in fourth and one-third I have to be in third gear. Some drivers are good and can feel when it is lugging. We figured out a median by voltage.
Crunching the numbers into the night
We have gone 256 miles and we have used roughly 16 percent of our pack. You can do the math, but we had to increase the speed because we don’t have enough time on the track. If we had a flat track, at 28 mph we might be able to hit 1,580 miles, but let’s be honest, we have to beat 808 miles. We are going to smash that.”
Sam Rosner was conducting a video interview and asked: “So, then, this is going to be way more realistic?” Eric responded that: “We are not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We have to treat the pedal like there’s an egg under your right foot. But yes, this is going to be close to the real world in terms of what we can achieve.”
Things went smoothly until 10:30 p.m., then the car was slowing. The red safety truck flew out, going counter-clockwise to intercept the BMW. The Tesla support vehicle soon followed. The battery controller was hitting BBQ temperatures. Don from the crew told me later that the windshield fluid chamber used for cooling was bubbling hot. “We added some really cold water and turned the pump back on and it worked.” The Phoenix was rolling again. Tension dropped as the BMW quietly slipped past. Phil was calculating numbers; it looked like he had lots of spare power, but it was nighttime and in the cool air the batteries were fairing better. The Guinness Book witnesses changed shifts at 10:45 p.m., when Spencer took the wheel. Sam volunteered to take over the walkie-talkie, coaching the driver like Eric and doing spot calculations, so that Eric could take a nap.
Time To Play
The cat was away and Spencer wanted to play. Instead of dropping to third, Spencer wanted to see if he could dial in the controls and keep the car rolling in fourth. At 28 mph, point up hill, drop to third and the readout stated 126.3 volts; 36 mph took 53 amps; Phil said “bring it up to 60 amps. See if you can keep 32 mph going up the hill. Twenty-eight mph sucks; it feels like you are dying. It’s like a guy on roller skates pushing a piano up a hill.”
Driver Spencer was a key part of the record-breaking team
Spencer was getting pretty smooth and we were joking around in pits and talking about the Back to the Future DeLorean going 88 mph.
Max Balchowsky and his cobbled together championship Old Yeller cars kept popping into my head. Max used to get a kick out of going through the trash of the mighty Ferraris and Jaguars, pulling out an old spark plug (or a suspension) and asking if he could have it for his car. Max would regularly drive up to the Laguna Seca track with his four racing tires strapped together, tied into passenger seat. Quite often the winner’s trophy would be belted to the top of the tire pile for the ride home.
Into the Night/A Revelation
Brother Carl Lundgren from Ohio took the walkie-talkie and called The Phoenix in to change the card for the onboard camera. Derek took the wheel at 12:15 a.m., going out with a fully charged walkie-talkie. Sam went back on communications. Spencer’s idea of dialing in the potentiometer to control power appealed to Derek and Carl. They decided to go with it. The cold air meant that the car was using a bit less power–121.4 volts was the reading. The Phoenix started at 134 volts and 80 volts meant dead stop. The Phoenix might be able to hit 1,000 miles. At 1:45 a.m. Eric and Carl’s mom came over and examined the numbers like a forensic accountant. Derek was turning laps of 3 minutes: 22 seconds; 3.21, 3.22– very consistent numbers. There were 30 hours left on the clock; things were looking pretty good. Carl asked
Phil Huerter (red shirt) & Sam Rosner (white shirt) debate driving strategy with the team
“Which is the enemy–time or power? We might have enough power for 32 hours, but we have 29.” Meanwhile the Guinness witnesses were asked if they could sign up for a few extra hours.
At 3:53 a.m. the reading was at 118.2 volts remaining, with 454 laps covered. It looked like The Phoenix was chewing up about one volt per hour. Phil emerged from his nap sporting clean clothes and a big smile. Sam and Carl explained what Spencer had come up with after Phil left for his nap. Phil, an ex-Navy electronics wizard, did not like Spencer’s idea, but when he ran his numbers and figured out that it was working, he said to go with it. At 4:37 a.m. The Phoenix hit 480 miles.
The Phoenix would beat its previous best of 750 miles, but it wouldn’t be until 11 a.m. that it cruised past the old record of 808 miles. Would it hit the half-ton? Almost. She came in at 999.5 miles.
The 12-volt system running the controller (which runs the motor) stopped functioning, causing a catastrophic failure. By Eric’s calculations, The Phoenix still had 110 miles in the battery pack.
The show was over, but the record had fallen, and it fell pretty hard.
The Art of the Possible
From Eric” “We want to show people what is possible, stop wasting their waste. We want to make lemons into lemonade. All of this trash that we throw away–that hurts us. Because we don’t know what to do with it, we dump it, and it leeches these chemicals into our environment, into our water table and we drink it.” Lithium-Ion, lithium-polymer, iron-phosphate are the new battery chemistries. The old one, lead acid–99.9 percent gets recycled, because it has been around forever, and we came up with all these solutions.” “But these new battery technologies are changing all the time so quickly.
More Eric: “So it’s very hard to find a solution to be able to recycle them for their commodity value. But it is easy to go from a utilitarian value. You can offset the actual recycling needed for the broken batteries. Salvage the good, (repackage it), and put it into a new application. That’s the secret–Hybrid Recycling.”
Breaking a record is a team sport
And more Eric: “We have done hundreds (of new applications.) We have done 18650 cells, the prismatic cells, the LG Chem cells, all going into e-wheelchairs. We worked with the company and we built electric wheelchairs that cost half as much and go twice as far (as current ones on the market), and are better for the environment. We take your cell phone and, when it breaks, we turn it into a video doorbell unit. We take your tablet and, when it breaks, we turn it into a flip-down unit for the back of your car for your kids to watch their cartoons.”
There are companies who have been unwilling to consider Hybrid Recycling, according to Eric. “They take the battery pack that has one broken part, where 90 or 100 pieces are working perfectly, generic components. They take it and they smelt it. Melt it for commodity value. Bringing all of its value down to its lowest use–tin and copper. They recycle the lithium, and say ‘aren’t we doing a great job?’ There is one car company that specifically refuses to use Hybrid Recycling. They sell their used batteries to a company that does not even recycle them–a middleman who gives it to a company located outside of BC (British Columbia, Canada) that takes the whole battery and they smelt it. It creates 18 percent toxic slurry that you cannot reuse. It (the slurry) floats up to top, comingled plastic and rubber and all the chemicals. They take off that 18 percent. You cannot dump that in Canada because it is so toxic. So they import it to my home state of Washington and dump it into an environmental landfill. Which is basically a hole with a giant plastic bag that you put stuff in and cap off. Mercury, lead, bromine, cadmium. Because we don’t know how to recycle this stuff properly.”
The electronic waste stream in the US is growing by leaps and bounds. Eric’s company ITAP grew up taking old computer equipment and digital trash and repurposing it rather than seeing it go to the dump or melted into toxins. An old BMW with parts pulled from a forklift as well as an assortment of other equipment lying around took on on some of the best the world could offer and won. It’s just using your brains, Hybrid Recycling.
Somewhere out there one of the great American Icons of car racing, Max Balchowsky, must be sporting an ear-to-ear grin, another American junkyard dog has notched up another win.
Here’s a video interview with Eric Lundgren by Sam Rosner.
More Electrical Power; Better Fuel Economy
Automakers are being squished. On the one hand, governments have implemented new rules to reduce harmful emissions and increase fuel economy. On the other hand, new electric technologies are taxing the traditional 12-volt battery, making it more difficult to meet tightening global fuel-economy and carbon-dioxide emissions.
The solution? A 48-volt battery system, which will increasingly begin to appear on new cars, trucks and SUVs. They will power stop-start motors, hybrid motors and turbochargers, allowing for smaller engines with fewer emissions, better fuel economy and performance. They’ll handle accessories ranging from mechanical or hydraulic power to electric power, such as power steering, power brakes, water pump, radiator cooling and air conditioning.
Suppliers like Dephi are cranking up 48-volt systems
Over the past decade or so, car companies have been adding a ton a new infotainment options along with driver-assist safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and backup cameras. In addition, you still have heated seats, heated steering wheels and heated windshields. No wonder the standard 12-volt electrical systems are being stretched thin; so 48-volt systems will step in and help accommodate the need for more on-board power, as well as aiding automakers to meet government mandates.
This is especially true on luxury cars. Audi is using a 48-volt system to help power an electric supercharger, and at the high end, the $230,000 Bentley Bentayga SUV has added a 48-volt along with its active anti-roll bar. Mechanical anti-roll bars reduce the car’s lean in a turn. This one reduces roll further, so passengers feel less discomfort when the driver takes a curve at high speed.
The New Mild Hybrid
The new mild hybrid systems are not like the Integrated Motor Assist mild hybrid system introduced on the Honda Insight in 1999. Rather, they are similar to General Motors’ Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) system of the mid 2000s as found on the Saturn Vue sport utility and Buick LaCrosse sedan.
These new systems will replace the traditional alternator and starter with a 48-volt device called a motor generator unit (MGU) that runs off the accessory belt. The drive system appears to be standard belt and pulley system connected to the MGU. Tensioners allow the motor to apply torque by the MGU and also to the MGU. A small 48-volt lithium-ion battery and a DC-to-DC convertor completes the hybrid system and will take up a small amount of space in the trunk.
Under braking, energy can be collected and stored in the battery. With some systems it can also power cars so they can coast with the engine off while at speed, both of which can boost fuel economy. The batteries can also provide around 20 horsepower and up to 100 pounds-feet of torque for a bit of extra performance. The immediacy with which electric systems can deliver torque can help fill performance gaps in a gasoline or diesel engine’s rev range. These new mild hybrid systems will also have stop-start systems; the hybrid application will improve the quickness and smoothness when accelerating from stop.
Cadillac’s SUV will get a 48-volt system
As for the 12-volt battery, well, it will still have a place in these vehicles, but it’ll be used for powering ancillary systems such as lights and audio systems.
Low Cost, Improved Fuel Economy, Lower Emissions
The 48-volt mild hybrid systems are relatively inexpensive, from $650 to $1,200 per vehicle net cost to an automaker, providing savings by requiring little additional hardware or rewiring. The reward in real world fuel economy will be an improvement of 15 to 20 percent. That’s important to auto manufacturers as the U.S.’s 54.5 mpg requirement by 2025 is looming.
In Europe and China, it’s all about CO2 emissions, which require 117 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2020 and 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2021. The 48-volt systems will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15 percent as well as reducing NOX emissions in diesel vehicles.
First 48-Volt Hybrid Systems Available In Europe
It’s no surprise that with the emphasis on automobile CO2 reduction in the European Union that the first production 48-volt hybrid would be introduced there. Jointly developed by French carmaker Renault and by German automotive tech giant Continental, the 48-volt hybrid drive made its debut in diesel production variants of Renault’s Scenic and Grand Scenic models. Also available to European car buyers is the all-new 2018 Mercedes-Benz S500 luxury sedan, which offers a 48-volt hybrid system as standard equipment. However, that particular model will not be offered to U.S. consumers with the rest of the lineup when they arrive on our shores this fall.
Only Europe will get this 48-volt Mercedes
If the allure of a 48-volt hybrid has grabbed your interest, you’ll have to wait until next spring. That’s when Audi’s all-new 2019 A8 arrives, and the system will be standard on all models. Or, you could move to China, where General Motors announced recently that the Cadillac XT5 sport utility will have an optional 48-volt hybrid system that will offer nearly 30 mpg. The XT5 hybrid will go on sale by the end of this year, but there was no mention that it will make its way to America.
A few expensive cars offering a 48-volt hybrid system doesn’t sound like many vehicles, but just wait, they are expected to spread like wildfire. Among the predictions, IHS Automotive forecasts that by 2025 mild hybrids will capture 18 percent of the European market. That’s compared with six percent for plug-in hybrids, three percent for full hybrids and three percent for full-electric vehicles in the same time frame. On a larger scale, automotive supplier Continental predicts the number of cars using these hybrid drives will reach four million worldwide by 2020, rising to 25 million by 2025.
At this week’s Frankfurt auto show, automakers will be vying to show that Tesla won’t overtake them by introducing a passel of battery-electric vehicles themselves. Here’s a look from Clean Fleet Report of one of those new electrified cars that you could be driving by the end of this decade.
Autonomous Technology, Electrification Push A8 to the Top
Audi has thrown down the gauntlet for high-end luxury cars, and put BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla on notice: The 2019 Audi A8 has leapfrogged in every area with the recently refreshed BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class flagship sedans as well as the challenger, the Tesla Model S. Starting with the all-new 2019 Audi A8, every single model will soon feature a 48-volt hybrid system.
Inside the tech-heavy 2019 Audi A8
The hardware starts with a belt-driven alternator-starter as the core of the 48-volt hybrid unit. The system allows the A8 to coast with the engine turned off, saving fuel. Audi says the system restarts “smoothly,” unlike some stop-start systems currently employed. The mild hybrid system can also recover some energy during braking, while the motor adds 16 horsepower (12 kilowatts) on top of the engine’s output, with the final power figure a combination of both propulsion sources. As for fuel economy, Audi estimates the mild hybrid system will reduce fuel consumption by 0.2 gallons for every 62 miles driven in real world driving conditions.
When the new 2019 A8 arrives in the U.S. next spring, it will be powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 gasoline engine delivering 354 horsepower and a healthy 369 pounds-feet torque. An eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission will deliver that power to all four wheels, as all 2019 A8s will come with permanent Quattro all-wheel drive. Optional will be four-wheel steering.
On the technological front, the new A8 will be the first production car to come to the U.S. fully ready for Level 3 (on the 0-5 scale for autonomy laid out by the Society of Automotive Engineers). Called “Traffic Jam Pilot,” the system can take control of the vehicle on highways with a physical barrier separating oncoming traffic, at speeds up to 37 mph. It’ll take care of steering, accelerating and braking, and will give the driver plenty of warning when it’s his or her turn to take the steering wheel once again. It will also be capable of parking itself, whether in a parking space or a garage. Audi will roll out activation of the A8’s autonomous driving features when U.S. federal or state laws allow.
To smooth the ride, an electromechanical suspension, with juice supplied by the 48-volt system, uses cameras that monitor the road ahead and can command the suspension to soften up over bumps. Electric motors actuate the air suspension to soften or firm up at a millisecond’s notice. It can also raise the car up if there’s a side collision to help mitigate any chance of injury by deflecting the blow to the strongest parts of the chassis.
Traffic Jam Pilot takes autonomy up a level
As you would expect, the 2019 Audi A8 is fully redesigned, with nearly 90 percent of the front end covered by a new, massive hexagonal grille—it’s the automobile equivalent of a Kenworth 18-wheeler in the rearview mirror. Narrow headlights lifted from the Prologue concept cars have laser beams (not U.S. approved) within the LED Matrix lights. Out back, the taillights are joined together with a long strip of both chrome and more taillight.
No surprise to anyone, the 2019 Audi A8’s cabin is leather-wrapped and wood-trimmed. The interior adopts a reductive design with a strictly horizontal orientation. It dispenses with the familiar rotary pushbutton and touchpad of the predecessor model in favor of an instrument panel which is largely free of buttons and switches. At its center is a 10.1-inch touchscreen display which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround thanks to its black-panel look. The A8 also includes a footrest for backseat passengers with massage function. That’s coupled with heated and cooled seats as well.
When the 2019 Audi A8 hits European streets this fall, the base price will be $103,000 and change.
U.S. pricing will be announced at a later date.
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