Sunday, 22 January 2012

Episode Six - Transmissions in Electric Cars

Episode 6 of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast

In this episode...

                A look at issues affecting transmissions in electric cars

Thanks for tuning in to episode six of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast, it is Monday, January 23rd, 2012.

Guess what?  You can email me at or tweet me @ozptpodcast, or of course, leave a comment on the website;

I enjoyed the Christmas and New Year break and am ready and refreshed for what 2012 may bring.  The weather in Melbourne is fantastic at this time of year and I hope that it is in your part of the world as well.

*The ongoing European economic downturn has hurt demand in the windpower industry, to the point where Finnish drives manufacturer Vacon is looking to shed staff.  Vacon also produces a full range of electronic variable speed drives for industrial applications but it is the softening of the wind industry that is the major contributor to the decision, likely to see 60 front office workers go and a re-think in hours for production staff.

With a global turnover of more than 330 million Euros annually, Vacon has various distributors in Australia for its VSD range and there is not expected to be a change in the supply situation locally.

*After purchasing Baldor Electric Company at the end of 2010 for $4.2 billion, it was only a matter of time that ABB looked at how it could reap rewards from the knowledge of the Arkansas-based manufacturer.  The ABB acquisition of Baldor was considered to be at a premium at the time and invited speculation as to how its new US business would be structured.

Back in October 2011, ABB and Baldor merged its sales force for the US market, looking to benefit from Baldor’s existing extensive sales network.  The main stated goal of merging sales networks is to match the premium efficiency end of both businesses, however the two units offer competing products in motors, drives and peripherals so it is inevitable that some will become casualties.

The future of ABB and Baldor sales and distribution thinking in Australia is yet to pan out, but is possibly going to mirror that of the US.

*Hannover Messe is coming up at the end of April 2012, with many manufacturers in a supposed buoyant mood and talking up their exhibiting plans.  The Industrial Supply part of Hannover averages around 65,000 visitors and is without doubt the major industrial trade fair internationally.  Motion, Drives and Automation will next feature at Hannover in 2013.

April will also see the Drives & Controls Show being held at the Birmingham NEC, with the European Power Transmission Distributors Association looking to set up an away version of its Hannover stand.  Co-located with six other events, the Drives & Controls Show is staged every two years and is normally populated by motor and drive manufacturers, lubrication firms and the bearing game.

Check out for all of the information on this one.

*I did a feature about the Australian car manufacturing industry back in episode three of the Oz PT Podcast, examining the critical mass of demand required for the industry to survive.  Well, the Holden Commodore has just lost its title as Australia's top-selling new car, being knocked off by the Mazda 3 in 2011.

It is the first time in a LONG time that a fully-imported car has been the biggest seller in Australia, as the shift away from large cars continues.  40,000 Commodores were sold in 2011, whilst Ford could only shift 20,000 Falcons and the Toyota Aurion is an afterthought.

Although feeling the brunt of the imported challenge, the locals are looking at hybrids and diesels in small and medium-sized cars as the best way to face the onslaught.  For the sake of the Australian automotive component industry (and by extension the PT industry in general), let’s hope they can create some genuine competitors. 

Ford has picked up some backing from the Victorian and Australian governments in something labelled as a co-investment to help pursue other production possibilities.  Senator Carr – newly-appointed manufacturing minister – has managed to squeeze a little more cash from the auto giant in the transaction that will help Ford investigate ways the Falcon can continue to meet emission standards.

GM’s hand is out for Holden, who after investing $1 billion to get the VE to market is threatening to shut the doors on manufacturing in Australia.  I’m sure they’ll get the cash to keep it going for another couple of years, although the federal liberal-national coalition opposition is butting heads with the coalition governments in automaking states over the issue.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey have both backed their policy of slashing support to the Australian auto industry by $500M from $3.4B, which is diametrically opposed to the views of the state Premiers of Victoria and South Australia.  Creative destruction is loved by the economists, but on this scale is maybe a little too much for the industry to handle.

Opposed to the opposition’s auto policy are opposition parliamentarians Ian MacFarlane and Bruce Bilson, whilst spokesperson on the issue – Sophie Mirabella, it non-committal.

Although it is outside the usual purview of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast, I would like to spend some time talking about gearing in the new series of electric cars that are coming through from manufacturers.  Governments right across the developed world are looking to non-traditional energy sources for personal transport and electric cars are high on the agenda for most of them.

There are a couple of major manufacturers who have pushed internal-combustion / electric hybrids to the point where they are a realistic option for everyday travel.  Toyota’s Prius is obviously the most well-known hybrid on the market and is the benchmark in the industry, yet Toyota has not rested on its laurels, conducting further research in the field with a plug-in version.

The Prius utilises Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive for its transmissions, achieving something akin to a constantly variable transmission.  It’s not really what I’m examining in this feature.  Likewise, the Chevy Volt runs a Prius-clone power-split hybrid design hooked up to a single reduction gear, but I’m more interested in the pure electric vehicles.

One of the more well-known electric car manufacturers is California-based Tesla.  Since its introduction in 2008, Tesla has moved a couple of thousand Roadster Ss, which features a 185kW, four pole AC electric motor.  The story of its transmission is a little more detailed.

Tesla tried X-Trac for the original Roadster transmission.  X-Trac is renowned as suppliers of transmissions and transaxles for many motor racing applications.  From all reports, the X-Trac design was capable, but Tesla specced it out as they were looking for more flexibility.

Tesla then got onto Magna International to see what they could come up with.  Issues with Tesla wanting a dual-clutch operated two speed transmission proved too much for the relationship – leading to a couple of court cases and much acrimony.  Magna is not a small concern, with 2011 revenue expected to be around $29 billion, but that all looks to be sorted now.  The first Roadsters to come out featured the Magna two speed, locked in second gear.

Eventually, BorgWarner was commissioned to design and supply a single speed fixed gear transaxle, which they did, opting for an 8.27:1 ratio.  These units were retrofitted to the earlier models and are standard on all new cars.

Nissan’s Leaf is a genuine all-electric with an 80kW motor and an in-house transmission featuring a single speed reduction gear with a final drive ratio of 7.93.

There have been a myriad of niggling technical issues with the introduction of the Leaf, but none of them have been with the transmission which looks to be able to handle the 280Nm torque demand with no problem.

Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV features a 47kW permanent magnet synchronous motor, hooked onto the rear axle and running through a single speed reduction gear.

Tesla’s lawyers were active again, disputing the Fisker Karma, which shares a lot with the new Tesla Model S.  The transmission employed is known as a ‘Series Hybrid’, where individual motors drive individual rear wheels, running  through a 4:1 final drive.

Oerlikon Graziano provides gearing for the Norwegian Th!nk, a small runaround with a 34kW induction motor.   More famous for their seven speed gearboxes in both the new McLaren MP4-12C and Lamborghini Aventador, Oerlikon Graziano has looked at the efficiency side of the ledger rather than outright capacity for the Th!nk. 

Th!nk goes broke every couple of years, but some new investors think they can make a go of it in a market where the right product offering could be just around the corner. 

UK-based Antonov has been at work on a three speed transmission, aimed at keeping motor RPM in the high-efficiency range.  Antonov have been working with Smith Electric Vehicles who have a range of commercial vehicles, and although the motor power is nowhere near that of the Tesla, the multi-ratio flexibility looks like something that may take hold. 

The baby REVAi isn’t really a car – more an enclosed scooter – featuring a 13kW AC motor

From an industrial gearing perspective, some manufacturers have entered into joint ventures with automotive specialists as they search out brave new worlds in the ballooning sector.

SEW-Eurodrive linked up in February last year with Brose Fahrzeugteile and set up a jointly-managed partnership with a view to designing, marketing and manufacturing drives for electric and hybrid cars.  Based in SEW’s home town of Bruchsal, Germany, and split 50/50, the partnership sees SEW provide Dr. Jochen Mahlein as Chief Technology Officer and Brosen’s Eckhard Seibold as the Chief Financial Officer.

Brose specialise in automotive mechatronics and already has an established network of customers in the industry, whilst SEW is primed to fuse both existing gearing knowledge with researched ideas. 

Not to be left behind, Bonfiglioli has partnered with Italian FIAT subsidiary Magneti Marelli’s powertrain division to design a hybrid drive for agricultural equipment.  The Magneti Marelli motor and Bonfiglioli drive is integrated into an application-specific hub unit - normally the domain of hydraulics – and features a Kinetic Energy Recovery System.  There is little doubt that scaled versions of this drive could be used in the automotive sector.

In nearly every case, manufacturers have chosen to run the drive through the electric motor and send it through an offset single reduction, much in the same way as industrial single reduction gearboxes.  The three speed Antonov design is a little more traditional in the automotive sense, as are some designs that haven’t got any traction yet.

The electric car sector is primed to explode in the next five years.  The major auto players can look after themselves on the manufacturing side, but will search out component suppliers with either off-the-shelf offerings or potential partnerships.

Thanks for joining me for episode six of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast.  You know how to hunt me down:  Email, twitter, the web.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the podcast, plenty of downloads and the Libsyn stats have also been encouraging.  It’s good to know that people care about industrial mechanical power transmission.

I’ll look forward to your company in two weeks.