The QUEST for OPTIMISATION01 May 2012
KSPG is on course to deliver unique fuel-saving technologies to OEMs, as its chief technical officer Dr Hans-Joachim Esch explains to Ian Adcock
Our focus is on optimising the internal combustion engine; it's our day-to-day job," says Dr Esch, adding that hybridisation "doesn't really work, if you drive at high speed". And although he says that he has nothing against hybrids, he does point out the following. "First of all, I think you have to optimise the internal combustion engine (ICE). Today, the OEMs are willing to spend money on this; in the past, they didn't want to do that."
Which must be heartening news for him and his colleagues at KSPG, as it has invested heavily in two breakthrough technologies that could result in fuel savings for any manufacturer willing to adopt them.
Esch believes that variable valve train (VVT) "is one of the most efficient ways to improve fuel consumption, especially in a petrol engine". And this is the reason why, following a detailed study of the market, KSPG decided to buy the fledgling enTec CONSULTING GmbH UniValve technology.
Invented by former BMW engineer Professor Rudolf Flieri, UniValve is entirely mechanical, unlike rival systems. "The advantage is that it's 100% mechanical; if it's developed in the proper way, it will be totally reliable," states Esch. "It's quite easy; you need only a few more parts than for a normal engine and it uses an electrical actuator. It's too early to say what the cost benefits are, but, compared to an hydraulic system, I think we will be more competitive."
More than 500 hours of durability testing has been completed, with engine speeds up to 8,000rpm, which is "very impressive" he comments, even if most OEMs won't use that capability. He predicts that it will take another three to four years before series production is realised.
The second technology KSPG is offering is its unique horizontally-mounted Vee-twin range extender, developed in conjunction with FEV and launched at last year's Frankfurt motorshow. But the reaction from the OEMs when KSPG and FEV showed them drawings of the concept was, to say the least, initially lukewarm, as Esch recalls.
"We asked the OEMs, if they would be interested in getting a range extender from a supplier. They answered 'No'. All they were interested in was a 100% electric vehicle." Not surprisingly, Esch and his colleagues were somewhat taken aback. "This wasn't what we expected; it was terrible news."
Despite this setback, Esch and his team persuaded their CEO to invest in the prototype displayed at Frankfurt: "We went to Frankfurt with it and the world changed completely; everyone was taking notes, the OEMs were studying it and asking if it will fit their cars. You have to build it and show it to customers;
it's the only way."
In a business model that is uncannily like that for the Lotus Engineering-Fagor three-cylinder range extender, Esch sees the KSPG-FEV range extender as a commodity that could be bought by various OEMs off the shelf. "Unlike
a parallel hybrid, which would be done by a supplier, a serial hybrid will be owned by the OEMs. With a range extender, why do it on their own? Because, in the beginning, no one expects very high numbers.
"So, we thought that maybe the engine could be shared by different OEMs, and we talked to them about that and no one said they didn't want it. Perhaps the software – how to run it – that would be much more customised by the OEM, as that's the interface with the customer/driver."
Initially, the main interest was from the European OEMs, but, following the car's North American debut at Detroit in January, US-based OEMs have shown interest. "We need to convince people that the concept works, from a noise, vibration and harshness point of view, and we believe it will," he adds. The next stage is to build a working prototype that Esch hopes will be running this summer.
While these might be headline technologies for KSPG, he says that all the big steps in improving fuel economy and emissions have been taken. It's now down to incremental improvements that will chip away at saving the odd gram per kilometre here and there. "70 g/Kms by 2025 is really a challenge and we need to bring the car's weight down to hit that target."
He advocates an holistic approach to powertrain design, predicting that cylinder deactivation will become increasingly common, along with fine-tuning each and every engine component. "Diamond-like carbon, or DLC coating, can improve the mechanical efficiency of the engine. Just on the piston, we have a package of measures that sees between 3-4% better fuel economy. Step-by-step improvements will be the answer."
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