The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity in differential electric powertrains (DEPs) is driven by increasing demand for electric vehicles (EVs), stricter emission regulations, advanced battery technology, and investments from automakers and start-ups. DEPs offer improved performance, efficiency, range, and cost, making EVs more competitive with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Furthermore, advancements in power electronics and electric motors, combined with increased investment from automakers and start-ups, are driving innovation in DEP technology. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: differential electric powertrains. Buy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

300+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, integrated multi-motor drivetrains, electric power steering (EPS), and post-collision handling are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Variable compression engines, V2V distance monitoring, and turbocharger shaft bearings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and plasma-jet ignition, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

Differential electric powertrains is a key innovation area in automotive

Differential electric powertrains are electric drive units that utilize a differential assembly and a transmission to transmit rotary power between the electric motor and the differential assembly. The transmission can have multiple reductions that include a set of gears and a set of planetary gears. They are becoming increasingly popular in electric vehicles because they allow for more efficient utilization of electrical energy and better control of the vehicle.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of differential electric powertrains.

Key players in differential electric powertrains – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to differential electric powertrains

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
American Axle & Manufacturing 25 Unlock Company Profile
Dana 43 Unlock Company Profile
Magna International 10 Unlock Company Profile
NTT 17 Unlock Company Profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 10 Unlock Company Profile
Subaru 4 Unlock Company Profile
Melrose Industries 18 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 33 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 19 Unlock Company Profile
Aisin 18 Unlock Company Profile
Cummins 26 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 4 Unlock Company Profile
Bonfiglioli Riduttori 5 Unlock Company Profile
NTN 8 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 27 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 12 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 56 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 4 Unlock Company Profile
Bayerische Motoren Werke 7 Unlock Company Profile
JTEKT 15 Unlock Company Profile
BorgWarner 13 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 19 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 8 Unlock Company Profile
Lucid Group 14 Unlock Company Profile
FreeFlow Technologies 30 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler Fifth Investment Management 4 Unlock Company Profile
Rivian 4 Unlock Company Profile
Zeppelin-Stiftung 16 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Porsche Automobil is the leading patent filer in differential electric powertrains for the automotive industry, with a groundbreaking innovation aimed at improving the handling and performance of electric vehicles. The innovative system uses two electric motors to propel the rear wheels, integrating a differential gearbox to distribute torque. This technology has the potential to revolutionize various vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, offering numerous applications across various vehicles. Some other key patent filers in this space include Dana and Schaeffler.

In terms of application diversity, JTEKT leads the pack, while Bonfiglioli Riduttori and BAE Systems stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, FreeFlow Technologies held the top position, followed by JTEKT and BAE Systems.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Automotive

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.