Vehicle Electrification Is Much Bigger Than EVs

Engineers on the eBooster team in Kirchheimbolanden, Germany (Image credit: BorgWarner)

While consumers can choose a Tesla, Chevrolet Bolt, or other EV, BorgWarner sees electrification playing a part in every vehicle, and the company’s role that of enabling the technology.

“When we talk about propulsion and vehicle efficiency, it’s not just about a traditional vehicle powertrain,” explained Chris Thomas, BorgWarner’s CTO. “The level of focus is unprecedented. Some manufacturers are down to counting LEDs in tail lights to minimize electrical loads.”

“We try to proceed boldly on tech, especially when customers even hint they’re interested in the benefits of using electrical energy to improve efficiency,” said Brock Fraser, Director of Innovation and New Concepts, BorgWarner Turbo Systems, who leads an advanced engineering team that is all but completely focused on electrification. “Electrically charged air path, electrical recuperation from the exhaust stream, we want to turn those twinkles into serious interest.”

That effort can range from fundamental physics to automated software writing and rapid prototyping, according to Joel Maguire, Technical Fellow for Electrification, BorgWarner Advanced Engineering. Maguire’s role is to evangelize electrification across the company, and he is one of seven “trend champions” helping to facilitate innovative projects.

The company develops technologies with the support of its internal Venture Capital Fund, which helps experimental tech get to market by, as Thomas explained, “taking away the excuses to get funding.”

“Automotive electrical components are expensive, so there’s a hunger for more value-oriented solutions, and the answers aren’t completely obvious,” Maguire said. “One of the areas we’re exploring is lower power/voltage alternatives that might yield 70% of the benefits of electrification, but at only 30% of the cost.”

“Lots of companies can do electric motors.”

“There aren’t many that can do the mechanical integration,” Thomas added. “We’re uniquely able to marry them together as a system.”

For instance, turbochargers help small engines deliver the power of larger engines while using less fuel at light load. The problem is that it takes time for the turbocharger to spool-up, causing a short pause in power known as turbo lag. BorgWarner’s eBooster — an electric motor-driven compressor — delivers boost on demand until the turbocharger takes over. In addition, BorgWarner’s engineers have harnessed the vehicle’s energy as it slows down to generate the electricity needed to run an eBooster charging system.

Fraser added that he’s considering some of the company’s emerging products — such as an electric motor added to a turbo shaft that spins at “insane motor speeds” of up to 200,000 rpm and powered by exhaust gas energy plus a mild-hybrid conversion — on his personal vintage Porsche 911 because he “loves the combination of mad-awakening instant horsepower and silent electric, like Jekyll and Hyde.”

“Innovation is in our culture,” Thomas added. “Our people are inspired.” He explained that the company has partnered with Saïd Business School, Oxford University, to launch courses to teach and encourage its engineers and leaders to be innovative and capture value. The opt-in class is already oversubscribed 2x through 2017.

“We’re in every element of the automotive electrification spectrum,” said Maguire.

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