Schaeffler has turned an RS3 TCR touring car racer into a four-motor, four-wheel-drive electric dynamo
21 November 2018

On a small handling circuit that’s slick with moisture, an adapted Audi RS3 sits silently in front of a small group of onlookers. Without warning, the wheels on the right side of the car begin spinning backwards while those on the left side spin forwards.

As the air is filled with a manic, high-pitched whine that’s unlike any sound an RS3 has made before, the car rotates about itself like a record on a turntable. In just a couple of seconds, it spins around four times without travelling so much as a single metre, and with no steering angle whatsoever. Welcome to the very new and equally intriguing world of all-wheel torque vectoring.

 

 

What started out as an RS3 TCR racer (a sort of spec-formula touring car) has been converted by automotive technology giant Schaeffler, Audi’s partner in Formula E, to be fully electric. "This car exists for two reasons," says electronics engineer Gregor Gruber. "The first is to be a test-bed and a demonstrator for our all-wheel torque vectoring capabilities. There is clearly no practical application for a technology that makes a car spin on the spot, but when you realise that all-wheel torque vectoring is so powerful it can make a car do exactly that, you begin to understand how much it can change the behaviour of the car in normal driving.

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"The second reason this car exists is to showcase technology transfer from Formula E to something that’s more like a road car. The four motors and inverters are lifted directly from our Formula E car."

With one motor driving each wheel, Schaeffler’s 4ePerformance demo car has close to 1200bhp. A sizeable 64kWh battery contributes to a total weight of 1800kg - around 600kg more than the RS3 TCR car. But with so much power and torque, the car will still reach 62mph in 2.5sec and 124mph just 4.0sec later. "In these conditions," says Gruber, "the car will do four-wheel burnouts at close to top speed."

With 92,000 employees working across the globe, Schaeffler generated €14 billion in sales last year. It supplies powertrain, transmission and chassis technology to OEMs, and like any automotive supplier - or near enough any OEM, for that matter - Schaeffler has turned its attention to electric and hybrid drivetrains in recent years. Its €60 million E-Mobility centre in Buhl, Germany, may be brand new, but it will very soon house 500 engineers and researchers.

As well as looking at ‘last-mile’ urban mobility devices, such as electrified scooters and autonomous pods, Schaeffler’s E-Mobility division is also developing innovative hybrid powertrains (see panel). RS3s with 1200bhp that can rotate on the spot make up just a small part of the division’s activities.

From the passenger seat of the 4ePerformance, all-wheel torque vectoring feels like a game-changer for vehicle dynamics. Croatian start-up Rimac Automobili has been at the forefront of the technology for a few years, and having driven both its Concept One road car and its Pikes Peak hillclimb machine, I know first-hand how effective one electric motor driving each wheel can be.

Although such cars are generally much heavier than a comparable internal combustion engine car due to their huge stacks of batteries, they are without question far more agile and responsive. What’s more, the 4ePerformance accelerates so violently and in such an unrelenting way that you have to resist pleading with the driver to make it stop. As Schaeffler’s head of E-Mobility, Dr Jochen Schröder, puts it, "electric drivetrains don’t only have to be about reducing carbon emissions".

Schaeffler bets on a hybrid futureSchaeffler labels its vision for the future of automotive powertrains ’30:40:30’. By 2030, it predicts that 30% of new cars will be driven by internal combustion engines only, 40% will be hybrid and 30% will be battery electric. Schaeffler is therefore backing hybrid powertrains to count for a very significant proportion of the new car market for the foreseeable future, and it has developed a handful of new technologies accordingly.

Schröder explains that hybrids will grow in popularity because European legislation has been designed to incentivise that very outcome. By 2025, fleet average CO2 emissions targets for large-scale OEMs could be set as low as 81g/km. The fines for failing to meet such targets have been structured to be greater than the cost of implementing hybrid and EV technologies, giving car manufacturers good reason to distance themselves from internal combustion. New car buyers, however, will on the whole not feel ready for electric cars by 2030, so hybrids will plug the gap.

Schaeffler has recently launched a range of electric drive systems, for use on EVs and hybrids, that are characterised by high power density, compact dimensions and light weight. The new Audi E-tron features Schaeffler’s parallel axis hybrid system on the front axle and its coaxial system on the rear. The latter weighs only 16kg yet can deliver 295lb ft of torque to the wheels.

"Nonetheless, we are still optimising the combustion engine," says Schröder. "It isn’t dead just yet. We take a holistic, well-to-wheel view of CO2 emissions. We have to look at the entire chain rather than focus on tailpipe emissions."

Schaeffler is developing autonomous driving technologies, too, from individual components to complete systems. It predicts that by 2035, 9% of new cars will feature Level 5 autonomy.

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21 November 2018

if they got the speed down a bit  :)

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