Multi-energy platforms will need to accommodate both combustion-engine and electrified propulsion systems.
During most of the 43 years since U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards became law, the typical vehicle platform—unibody or full frame, with one ICE-based propulsion source running on hydrocarbon fuels—has essentially remained unchanged. It’s gained complexity, for sure. But it’s fundamentally the same old horse.
As electrification arrived during the last decade, OEMs began to package batteries, electric drive motors, DC-DC converters and power electronics into structures never ‘protected’ for such equipment when originally designed. Opportunities to save mass, improve package and manufacturing efficiency, and reduce the bill of material are compromised as a result.
As vehicle planners and platform engineers know, early consideration saves much time and capital down the road. That approach has long been proven on everything from engine boxes designed to accommodate both V6 and I4 power units, to platforms offering both 2wd and all-wheel drive, to right- and left-hand steering for global markets.
But in developing the spate of hybrid propulsion offerings on the road today, OEMs often opted to leverage existing platforms rather than invest in clean-sheet engineering because scale (and profits) have been far from certain. Effectively shoehorning in the electric-drive and energy storage elements has been the favored method of getting products into the market quickly.
But the need to meet the needs of European, Chinese or North American consumers (and regulators), by offering a mix of gasoline, diesel and different types of hybrids, requires a new solution. For the next couple decades, the predominant platform will be the “Multi Energy” solution – ones that efficiently package the ICE and higher levels electrification. Engineering such platforms is not an easy feat. Development teams must deliver all the content/capability of today’s offerings in a package which efficiently integrates both propulsion systems, optimizes the passenger/cargo space and, of course, compromises nothing in occupant safety.
The Multi-Energy vehicle platform also will need to incorporate automated driving systems sensor arrays and processor content, and have state-of-the-art NVH and thermal-management performance. Bodystyle flexibility will be paramount.
Multi-energy platforms will be, essentially, the most complex vehicle structures this industry ever designed. Modular hybrid/EV designs, including VW’s MEB, the Hyundai Ioniq (above) triplets, and BMW’s next-generation large sedan platform that will accommodate both combustion-engine and electrified propulsion, are pioneers here.
Longer-term, the industry will slowly focus more resources (and volume) towards the global battery- electric vehicle (BEV) platform—those without the need to package an ICE its attendant fuel and exhaust systems. The factors driving BEV platform dynamics will include optimizing battery range, mass and customer needs. As EV production scale increases, charging infrastructure grows, and market acceptance of EVs goes mainstream, the need to engineer two different (though complementary) propulsion systems within one vehicle will diminish.
Dedicated BEV platforms, with only an electric propulsion system, will be easier to design and build than those aimed at hybrids. IHS Markit intelligence reveals a growing number of global BEV platforms under development today by major OEMs. But even after the BEVs enter production, the flexible Multi-Energy platform will underpin many millions of global vehicles for decades to come, as OEMs make the long transition to pure electric products.
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