The 4WD technologies market in Europe is in the midst of significant change according to research firm Frost & Sullivan. There are increasing challenges in consumer demands leading to the development of E-4WD technology and pressure on reducing fuel consumption and emissions, F&S says.

Vehicle manufacturers and their associated Tier 1 Suppliers are now racing to develop new 4WD concepts such as Torque Vectoring to help them maintain growth. It is important for OEMs and suppliers to focus on the right balance between regulations, cost and customer preferences to achieve success in 4WD technology market, F&S says.

The Torque transfer Vs Torque Management debate
The continuing shift towards electronic control of torque distribution is a significant trend for 4WD technologies. Shifting from torque transfer to torque management has been the main focus for OEMs and suppliers. This implies, a considerable growth in active or On-demand AWD systems resulting in decrease in volume and value for passive or conventional full time AWD systems.

On-demand systems offer significant benefits in terms of weight and efficiency – as the system can be easily deactivated by the driver when not required. Also by using On-demand systems drivers have greater control and stability of their vehicles as there is no delay in torque distribution between the wheels. Fuel consumption is also improved by nearly 10 percent due to less efficiency losses.

Growing Market for On-demand Systems – Torque Vectoring is the Emerging Trend
On-demand systems currently feature on most of the all wheel driven cars (AWD) and SUVs being offered by different vehicle manufacturers. When wheel slip occurs on one axle, the system transfers a portion of torque to the other axle. If the wheel spin continues the system reduces engine torque or brake’s one of the wheels if necessary.

Over the last two years, On-demand systems have transformed into a new concept called as torque vectoring. These systems can transfer or vector torque not only between axles but also among the four wheels simultaneously.

Interest in torque vectoring has increased after BMW introduced the torque vectoring system (developed jointly with GKN and ZF) on the X6 in late 2007. Audi also has plans to launch Ricardo’s Cross-axle torque vectoring on its A4 and A5 models. Other European OEMs also have shown interest in Vector Drive concept developed by ZF and GKN.

Among different 4WD systems, Frost & Sullivan expects an increase in demand for FWD based On-demand systems. The penetration rate of FWD based AWD systems are projected to reach 2.5 percent in 2015, with more than 600 thousand vehicles sold. The penetration for RWD based On-demand systems is expected to be 1.5 percent in 2015 with over 400 thousand units sold. The penetration of full time and part time 4WD systems is mainly governed by the production of SUVs and is projected to reach nearly 6 percent with over 1.5 million vehicles sold.

CUVs likely to outsell SUVs by 2015
Gains in fuel economy, lower overall weight of the vehicle with improved efficiencies are pushing the sales of Compact Utility Vehicles (CUVs). Having experienced the off road benefits in SUVs consumers wish OEMs to offer AWD functionalities in CUVs also. This is likely to boost the penetration of On-demand systems such as Electronic Torque Vectoring (ETV) and E-4WD in CUVs as such these systems are generally smaller and lighter to fit into such compact vehicles.

Also hybridization is more likely to be carried out in SUVs because of fuel savings potential of up to 40 percent, and upfront cost being less of an issue. Frost & Sullivan anticipates CUVs and Hybrid SUVs fitted with On-demand AWD systems will outsell SUVs with full time 4WD systems by 2015 due to better performance and lower emissions.

See also: Analysis of the European Market for AWD/4WD Technologies