Flash Drive: Delphi & Tula Teach an Engine to Dance

Flash Drive: Delphi & Tula Teach an Engine to Dance

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.

Delphi 48-volt

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.

Enter Suppliers   

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:

  • Gas direct-injection engines
  • Engine control software to enhance efficiency of the engine
  • Proprietary Tula software that allows individual cylinder deactivation
  • Delphi 48-volt

    The key of the eDSF 48V system is it all fits under the hood

    A 48-volt mild hybrid system  

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–

Delphi 48-volt

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Silicon Valley Invades Your Engine

Silicon Valley Invades Your Engine

Delphi & Tula Pioneer Software to Boost Fuel Economy

Conventional wisdom holds there are two distinct worlds in the automotive universe—the hardware-oriented gearheads who know engines, pistons and camber and the softer science engineers who design infotainment systems and the computer-oriented systems on the modern car. It’s the classic Detroit (or Tokyo or Stuttgart) vs. Silicon Valley story. Not that there isn’t plenty of crossover in a car that contains thousands of lines computer code throughout its ecosystem, but historically the engine was the province of the engineers inside a car company—and they rarely looked outside for inspiration. All that may be about to change.

Tier 1 supplier’s like Delphi are compiling CO2 reduction (or more positively, fuel economy improvement) technologies as the world’s automakers strive to meet global targets for reduced

Delphi,Tula,Dynamic Skip Fire,cylinder deactivation,mpg,fuel economy

Firing on all cylinders–or not

greenhouse gas emissions. While battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles are one path, that path is very expensive and has yet to demonstrate consumer acceptance that will guarantee its success. So in parallel suppliers and auto companies are exploring any and everything that can keep the tried and true internal combustion on a more environmentally friendly path.

Delphi’s recent investment in Tula, a Silicon Valley software company demonstrates one of those paths. Tula has developed software algorithms that do something engineers in Detroit, Tokyo and Stuttgart had not thought possible—to shut off different cylinders independently, giving the engine power as needed in a given situation, but saving fuel by giving it only the power needed and not firing any extras cylinders. The trick is taking cylinder deactivation, which is a known technology, to a more efficient level while not sacrificing NVH (noise-vibration-harshness) usually associated with uneven firing sequences. “No one inside the OEM world would have thought of this,” emphasized Dephi’s James Zizelman, managing director, North American, Dephi Powertrain Systems.

We Drove the Demo

The Dephi-Tula solution, which Clean Fleet Report had a chance to test-drive, squeezes out those extra mpgs that every manufacturer is striving for and still delivers smooth performance. Think of it as just-in-time delivery of power, but with the added benefit of maintaining smooth operation in the complex engine environment. The end result is a system called Dynamic Skip Fire.

Delphi,Dynamic Skip Fire,Tula technology,cylinder deactivation,mpg, fuel economy

The value proposition – more mpg for less

As Zizelman explained, in this system Dephi provides the basic hardware—powertrain controls and electronics, variable valve train technology and the vehicle integration and calibration. From Tula comes the advanced digital signal processing that makes this magic work. That magic is currently covered by 30 Tula patents with additional ones coming. In a vehicle, the result is an amazing firing pattern that looks (on a computer read-out) like the engine equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting but with the quiet smoothness of a Monet water lily.

The benefit is clear. In a V-8 application Dynamic Skip Fire can deliver a steady 17 percent improvement in fuel economy—for $25 an mpg. That’s around double the fuel economy improvement of current cylinder deactivation systems, Zizelman said. He added that Delphi and Tula are now working on a four-cylinder application that will be available for demonstrations next year. In that application, which adds the system to a gasoline direct injection engine, hey expect a 10 percent fuel economy improvement—at a slightly high cost per mpg.

Delphi & Tula – Ready for the Market

Because most of the hardware is off-the-shelf, Delphi has been able to bring the integration of the new software up to “automotive grade” quality relatively quickly. Zizelman said the company expects to see Dynamic Skip Fire in production vehicles by the 2020 model year.

An additional benefit of this system might come when it is combined with something else Delphi (among other suppliers) is working on and predicts will become commonplace in the coming

Delphi,Tula,Dynamic Skip Fire,fuel economy,cylinder dactivation,mpg

OEMs and Silicon Valley meet at the roller finger follower

model years—48-volt mild hybrid systems. As explained by Delphi’s chief technology officer Jeff Owens, “Compared to higher voltage mild hybrids, vehicles with 48-volt systems have demonstrated 70 percent of the benefit at 30 percent of the cost.” These systems, in either gasoline or diesel engines, could reduce the percentage of CO2 emissions by double digits, capture energy typically lost while braking and provide torque in the low rpm range for anemic start-stop hybrids. The 48-volt systems is particularly efficient in low speed, stop-and-go driving situations, which would ideally complement the Dynamic Skip Fire’s efficiencies at higher speeds.

Whether with Dynamic Skip Fire or 48-volt mild hybrids or a combination of both, the folks at Delphi have many ways in which the internal combustion engine will continue to remain competitive in the marketplace even as CO2 and fuel economy regulations push for higher efficiency.

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