Last week’s Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) event at Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire showcased a range of innovative technology projects, a large number of which focused on efficient and experimental powertrain technology.
What struck me most is the way that the challenges of meeting increasingly strict emissions standards and developing the technology for production are encouraging major car companies to forge extensive collaborations with smaller specialist firms.
At LCV, for example, Jaguar Land Rover announced the new two-year Evoque_e project which that will research hybrid and battery-electric vehicle technology. The collaboration aims to design, develop and build three next-generation Evoque-based concepts for a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV), a Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) and a full Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).
JLR is leading the project (it is stumping up £4m of the £16m that will fund the research), which will benefit from input from Zytek Automotive, GKN Driveline, Motor Design Limited, AVL, Drive System Design, Williams Advanced Engineering, Delta Motorsport, Tata Steel, Bristol University, Cranfield University and Newcastle University.
And where does all this research ultimately lead? Well, in a neat piece of symmetry, when I arrived in Frankfurt yesterday I had the opportunity to briefly sample the fruits of a previous research project by JLR.
The 2014 model year Range Rover Evoque is fitted with new Active Driveline technology, a four-wheel-drive system that slips seamlessly into two-wheel drive in driving conditions that don’t require total traction. The system can also attribute torque to either of rear wheels as and when it's required.
The aim of the system is to improve fuel consumption, enhance performance and make the powertrain more efficient. When four-wheel drive is not required, all the major driveline components associated with turning the rear wheels come to rest. If four-wheel drive is needed again, the system can redeploy it in 300 milliseconds. In other words, faster than you can say, “off-road”.
Development of Active Driveline started back in 2009 and the system has been developed in conjunction with GKN Driveline, one of the companies that will also work on the new Evoque_e project and currently supplies more standard powertrain componentry to JLR.
It’s encouraging to see the fruits of medium-term research being incorporated into production vehicles. Land Rover chiefs have already said that the Evoque_e project will be angled towards technology that could be used on future production cars.
Allied to that, there’s the announcement this morning that JLR is planning to hire 1700 new employees to support the expansion of its product range to include a new mid-size sports saloon and (hopefully) a production version of the striking C-X17 crossover concept unveiled yesterday evening.
I’m expecting advanced powertrain and car platform technology to be one of the main agendas of the Frankfurt motor show when it swings fully into action today. As well as JLR’s headline news, there’s Toyota highlighting its next-gen hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells, VW with its electric Up and performance hybrids from BMW and Audi too. Oh, and don’t forget the surge of interest in all-electric Tesla. Interesting times, these.