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Robin Milavec, Senior Vice President, Executive Board Director, Chief Technology Officer & Chief Strategy Officer, Nexteer Automotive
In recent years, the automotive industry has experienced a magnitude of change that has not been seen in over a century. This evolution continues and will be driven primarily by the mutually reinforcing and intersecting megatrends of Electrification, Mobility, Software, Connectivity and ADAS/Automated Driving. Together, these industry trends are known by many different names, one being C.A.S.E. (Connected, Automated, Shared and Electric).
With these megatrends come a variety of new challenges for global automakers as well as Tier 1 automotive suppliers. For example, the Electrification megatrend brings challenges in areas such as load requirements, packaging, durability and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), among others. This presents opportunities for automakers and suppliers to innovate new products and technologies to meet the unique needs of electric vehicles (EVs).
Overcoming EV Load Requirement Challenges
EVs are typically heavier than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts – driven mostly by the vehicle battery weight. This means new and innovative steering systems will be required to handle the higher steering load requirements, such as Nexteer’s High-Output Rack-Assist Electric Power Steering (REPS) system which nearly doubles the steering load capability compared to a standard REPS system.
Steering up to 24 kilo newtons of load on a 12-volt electrical system would have been thought to be unachievable just a few years ago, but now that capability exists with Nexteer’s High-Output REPS.
Overcoming EV Packaging Challenges
Column and intermediate shaft technologies play an important role in electrification by offering reduced mass and packaging flexibility. For example, most EVs are designed with the battery being central and low in the vehicle. In certain situations, this design and placement requires an innovative intermediate shaft solution to accommodate the battery, such as Nexteer’s Intermediate Shaft High Angle Joint that has high angulation capability (up to 63° +/– 5°). New technologies like column position module and actuator assembly must also be smarter, quieter and more cost-effective than their predecessors.
Overcoming EV Durability &NVH Challenges
Halfshaft technologies also solve EV challenges by enabling expanded durability and efficiency while providing outstanding NVH performance and lower mass. Unlike ICE vehicles, EV architectures utilize electric drive units (EDUs) integrated into the front axle for front wheel drive, the rear axle for rear wheel drive or both for all wheel drive operation. While ICE vehicles often use a variety of driveline technologies, EVs primarily rely on halfshafts for the critical task of transmitting torque from the EDUs to the wheels. Halfshaft designs will also expand fatigue requirements due to increased torque and regenerative braking needs in EVs, while specialized joint types will be needed for enhanced NVH and efficiency.
Electrification & Full-Size Truck Market
The intersection of electrification with the full-sizetruck market offers a unique look into how automakers and suppliers are working together to overcome EV challenges on new vehicles in America’s most popular vehicle segment.
"These drivers can also benefit from improved fuel economy, enhanced steering feel, and advanced safety features that were traditionally only found in the light-duty truck segment."
While several OEMs have announced plans for migrating full-size trucks to battery EV (BEV) platforms, let’s look at one program as an example: One full-size truck BEV program from a leading global automaker will be leveraging Nexteer’s High-Output REPS to manage the vehicle’s high steering load. The steering system will also have a control module assembly with independently sealed chambers to provide a failsafe solution to several common cause issues. This vehicle’s column assembly will feature a new power rake and telescope design and a state-of-the-art position module and actuator assembly to maximize packaging space, and the driveline will use Nexteer’s ball spline axle bar technology which sets a new standard for NVH and durability performance in ultra-high running angle applications.
In addition to meeting the steering demands of heavy EVs, Nexteer’s High-Output REPS can also be used to convert heavy-duty trucks and light-commercial vehicles from hydraulic to electric power steering due to the increased steering load capability. This solves a longstanding consumer pain point for OEMs: where the less-expensive light-duty trucks with EPS offered more safety and comfort features compared to the more expensive heavy-duty trucks that utilized hydraulic steering.
Now that heavy-duty trucks and light-commercial vehicles can be steered electrically, these drivers can also benefit from improved fuel economy, enhanced steering feel and advanced safety features that were traditionally only found in the light-duty truck segment. Automakers will have an additional incentive to apply electric power steering because the truck market is extremely competitive, and this technology can help them differentiate their vehicles in this very crowded marketplace.
In areas like the full-size truck market where multiple trends converge, there are a wealth of opportunities for automakers and suppliers to innovate and accelerate new technology implementation – ultimately benefiting drivers around the world with enhanced vehicle safety and performance.