Engineers balance today’s programs with tomorrow’s mobility future

With WCX 2019 about to kick off, we asked industry engineers what’s on their development front burner.

Engineers are seeing the automotive industry pivot to advanced mobility. It’s a changing landscape with new lifeblood for the internal combustion engine and a backdrop of electrified, autonomous-vehicle preparations. The industry’s product development consideration list begins with meeting government mandates around the globe. For greenhouse gas emissions, the compliance scorecard will be roughly 20% tougher in 2022 and 30% stricter in 2025 versus today’s requirements.

“It’s not a preconceived conclusion that we get there with engines. We have to look at every element of energy usage throughout the entire vehicle,” said Mike Dahl, head of NAFTA engine programs, propulsion planning and strategy for FCA. “For example, if we see a better value in reducing the weight of a vehicle than we see with adding technology to an engine, we would prefer to do the higher value action.”

Since there isn’t a single solution to emissions reduction, vehicle system simulations help sway design outcomes. “Each vehicle case is unique. Different segments will have different inputs and drivers that potentially lead us to different solutions,” said Dahl. With many automakers shifting their product portfolio in the U.S. to a higher percentage of trucks and SUVs, fleet fuel-economy targets also factor into a specific vehicle’s propulsion offerings.

When the next-generation Jeep Wrangler debuted in the 2018MY, the SUV’s engine line-up included an all-new 2.0-L turbocharged inline 4-cylinder. That engine, which also powers the current Jeep Cherokee, has a twin-scroll low-inertia turbocharger, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system and direct injection. “Every engine that we do is more efficient than the previous one,” Dahl said.

Now, near and far
“At Ford, we have this idea of now, near and far. With everything that we do, we ask ourselves: What do we need to do now, what do we need to do in the near-term, and what is the far,” said John Rollinger, Ford Motor Company’s technical leader for powertrain gas engine control. “You always have to think about what the far is when you’re doing the current design.”

Sheldon Brown, chief engineer for the Toyota Tacoma midsize pickup truck, noted that fuel efficiency is an influencer for virtually all new vehicle offerings. That’s driven by the need to meet 2025 U.S. government Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fleet requirements, and in Toyota’s case it’s also driven by the automaker’s own targets for fuel economy and emissions for 2030 and beyond.

“On the powertrain front, you are seeing a complete focus on efficiency with the downsizing of engine displacement paired with the use of turbos and hybrid electrification. Just look at some of our recent models, such as the Avalon and the RAV4, where we are offering hybrid variations that compliment vehicle performance at very affordable price points to the customers,” Brown said, referencing the company’s flagship sedan and its compact SUV.

Revamped portfolio mission
With global automakers offering consumers hybrid, full electric, and other propulsion modes, suppliers are revamping portfolios. “Our product portfolio mission is changing dramatically. The focus has been on stable internal combustion engine-based applications. However, we are moving rapidly towards revolutionary propulsion technologies where the operating profiles are not yet fully understood,” noted Kevin Herlan, director of engineering for MAHLE’s thermal business unit.

Herlan said he believes that designing and developing products for next-generation mobility requires systems integration. “The automotive thermal arena has become a component-based, commodity-sourced environment over the last 20 years. Future success will require OEMs to involve the supply base at the beginning of the vehicle development process to help mitigate risks,” he said. The business unit’s new-mobility products include electric compressors, battery cooling and heat-pump systems.

As the industry morphs toward an electrified, autonomous-mobility future, advanced propulsion support technologies are considered must-have. According to Fernando Portela Cubillo, technical director of Freudenberg Technology Innovation, the Freudenberg Group is focused on providing customers with incrementally better solutions for all powertain options. That non-singular focus “is influenced by the notion that the future of mobility does not rest on one powertrain.”

The autonomous future
The foreseeable future includes ICE, fuel cell, hybrid-electric and full-electric propulsion. It also includes more Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS). “In the next few years and beyond, one main focus is creating ADAS features that ultimately lead to autonomous driving mobility,” noted Bill Foy, senior VP of research and development at DENSO International America, Inc. The industry is making strides with driver assist technologies, including computing power, advanced sensor technologies and explainable artificial intelligence. “Each of these areas are advancing rapidly to make autonomous driving possible for mass production,” Foy noted.

James Schwyn, CTO at Valeo North America, considers certain aspects of the industry’s autonomous driving pursuits to be in a somewhat exploratory phase. “On the other hand, we are finding new ways to improve the driving experience utilizing existing technologies,” Schwyn noted, citing Valeo’s Drive4U demonstrator vehicle that uses a suite of ultrasonic, camera, radar and lidar sensors already in production today.

“The industry is making tremendous strides to refine and validate autonomous driving technologies driven by continuous learning,” Schwyn said. “It is truly a great time to be an engineer during this exciting transformation of the mobility industry.”

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