The move from combustion engines to electric drives will fundamentally change the automotive world. Continental is shaping this transformation from a leading position – and has been for years.
The technology company is now presenting at the IAA 2019 the third generation of electric powertrains, with the new, very high-performance, light and compact axle drive set to take to the roads in various electric models from several Chinese and European manufacturers later this year.
“We are promoting new mobility solutions with pioneering technologies. Our electric drives form a key element of innovative vehicles – from both established manufacturers and start-up companies,” said Andreas Wolf, CEO of Continental’s powertrain business.
With the new electric drive, the Powertrain division is assuming a pioneering role as technology supplier for highly integrated electric axle drives for the mass market and is once again setting standards for the performance of these modules. In this case, highly integrated means that the new high-voltage drive combines electric motor, power electronics and reduction gear in a single housing. This makes the Continental Powertrain division one of very few system suppliers to offer a complete, electrified powertrain from a single source.
Long-standing electric experience results in an outstanding level of development
Back in 2006, development work began at Continental on an electric drive that was used in an electric car from a European manufacturer from 2011. So, it was not only years of expertise in electric drives that went into the new, now market-ready, third generation of the axle drive, but also experience from long-standing everyday use of this technology.
Thanks to their systems expertise, Powertrain engineers were able to further improve the interaction between the individual components, consisting of the electric motor, power electronics and transmission, and synchronize them optimally – and also optimize installation space and weight. The new axle drive now weighs less than 80 kilograms. The function of an electric parking lock has now been integrated into the transmission.
The new, more powerful axle drive offers not only an outstanding driving experience, but also a favorable cost level. This is because numerous cable connections and connectors, for example, are no longer necessary thanks to the smart combination of the components, with a focus on integration.
“We offer the highly integrated axle drive in two performance levels, with 120 kW or 150 kW. The new, high-voltage drive, comprising electric motor, power electronics and reduction gear, has also reached a previously unseen level of development,” said Thomas Stierle, head of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle business unit of the Powertrain division. As far as an output of up to 150 kW and a maximum torque of up to 310 Nm is concerned, the new electric axle drive is roughly equivalent to a conventional two-liter turbo-diesel engine. The electric motor and power electronics of the new system are liquid-cooled.
Due to its size, performance data and characteristics, the axle drive from Continental is suitable for numerous vehicle classes and concepts. Specifically, the drive module will take to the road in a small European car and several compact SUVs from Asian manufacturers later this year. In addition to these new electric vehicles from traditional OEMs, the new Continental technology is setting the Sion electric vehicle from German start-up Sono Motors in motion. The Sion is the first series-produced electric vehicle to have solar cells integrated into its body. The car thereby produces electric energy self-sufficiently, extending its range. Production of the car, the electronics architecture of which is prepared for innovative sharing concepts, will begin in the coming year. The partnership between Continental and Sono Motors is oriented toward the long term, covering the Sion’s entire life cycle.
Partnerships with traditional OEMs and start-ups
As shown by the example of Sono Motors, Continental’s technological expertise makes it a driving force behind environmentally friendly drive and mobility concepts. In this area, too, practical experience is thus gained at an early stage and special expertise developed. With its high quality products, Continental therefore serves both young, emerging companies and established manufacturers from the vehicle industry.
Series production of the new axle drive used worldwide will begin at the Continental plant in Tianjin, China, in the third quarter of 2019. The reason for hosting production in China is that it means proximity to what is currently the largest and fastest-growing market for electric vehicles, coupled with the strong supplier chain that Continental has established in China.