“The benefit of Flex4 is that it takes all those components that would be normally consuming fuel and eliminates them from the motion of the vehicle. This, in turn, gives a 0.3 litres per 100km advantages with a 7 gram CO2 benefit.” John D. Zalewski.

“The benefit of Flex4 is that it takes all those components that would be normally consuming fuel and eliminates them from the motion of the vehicle. This, in turn, gives a 0.3 litres per 100km advantages with a 7 gram CO2 benefit.” John D. Zalewski.

While on a Magna ride-and-drive event in Michigan's scenic Upper Peninsula, we had the opportunity to put the supplier's finest AWD technologies to the test on snow and ice. The course was set deep within an isolated, unmarked and fortified facility in Brimley. Owned by Continental, this centre consists of two snow fields, an ice field, circle track and number of testing facilities. Following a few hours of white-knuckle driving, Matthew Beecham sat down with John D. Zalewski, Global Product Manager – Driveline Systems, Magna Powertrain to find out more about the supplier's AWD business.

Demand for AWD cars has grown significantly over the past decade. Why is that? And where do you see the fastest rate of growth?

There has been two trends. First, is a lifestyle trend. Some people are looking for more adventure, including taking up activities such as kayaking, biking and snowboarding. So if they are mountain biking then they need a vehicle capable of going to those trails, and an AWD vehicle enables them to get there. Second, there is perceived safety from vehicles that sit higher. So that attracts people to the crossover / SUV type market and pick-up trucks. Along with that, a lot of people decide that they want to have the AWD addition. Sometimes we have unusual climate conditions such as a large snow storm which results in being unable to move around for a few days. Sometimes that has an impact on a consumer's buying decisions when they next go to buy a vehicle. So those two trends both promote AWD.

In terms of the overall AWD market where do you see that going? And what sort of growth do you see for the North American market?

Overall, globally we see growth in the market that is around 3 percent from the data that we review, averaged out over all the regions. There are some regions that are growing faster such as in China where AWD is growing at a 6 – 7 percent whereas in North America it is growing at around 1.5 percent.  The North American market is, of course, a mature market with a lot of crossover vehicles. As more people enter the market, we are seeing some OEMs, for example Hyundai with its Genesis with the AWD product that we provide, in Canada it is 100 percent take rate for AWD. Because they have a more northern climate, whereas in the rest of North America it is still seen as an option. So there are certain micro areas that grow faster than others. We have seen big growth coming in the luxury passenger car market; there is a lot of adoption rate there demanded for AWD. It is a perceived luxury item for those brands so it has been adopted there more.

What about the popularity of AWD in other BRIC countries?

The AWD market is growing in India. In Brazil, the economy is having an impact on the selection of vehicles and options, in general. The same with Russia where it is more of an economic issue there where the auto industry has seen some downturn. However, we still see some high demand for AWD in Russia from a percentage standpoint. I think that some of that as to do with the fact they need the utility that AWD offers. They are not always going to have snow-cleared roads, so they need that added traction in order to reach their destination.

What do you see as the next major fuel economy saving you can make in AWD?

There are two things going on. Right now, there are the active disconnect systems. Magna has its own active disconnect with our Flex4 system. The benefit of this is that it takes all those components that would be normally consuming fuel and eliminates them from the motion of the vehicle. This, in turn, gives a 0.3 litres per 100km advantages with a 7 gram CO2 benefit. The other item we are focussing on is taking our traditional components and right sizing or improving the design to maximise the best for efficiency, e.g. reducing spin losses, but also reducing mass. It is a big item that the OEMs get a simple reduction in mass, boost their fuel economy and save money as they can reduce material hence weight. So AWD won't go away but the method of driving the secondary wheel set could change somewhat.

Do you think the forthcoming World Light Duty Test Procedure and Cycle (WLTP and WLTC) will have an effect on AWD?

I think it will because when you look at what Europe uses for the NEDC versus the US 06 [EPA Federal Test Procedures] schedules, there is a big difference there. And one of the differences was that we have a vast space joined by motorways, hence people travel between cities at high speed. In Europe, however, it does not take as long to travel in between cities at those higher speeds. So if you are going to put miles on a car, you are really not going to do that driving in a city but will on a motorway. So I think this (WLTP) is starting to bring together a revised inner-city cycle but also recognising that people travel from one city to another, hence we have to take care of that motorway speed. That is where the active disconnect technology comes into play.

Do you ever see a point in the future, say with the 2025 regulations, that it becomes a really difficult market for AWD?

I don't think so. When you look at 2025, everyone is making their plans. There are technologies that will impact the powertrain, the disconnect systems for AWD are just starting to roll out and then we have the electric AWD. AWD will still be demanded by the customer. It will be up to suppliers like Magna to find the solution that allows them to meet the clean air regulations and still meet the customer demand as well. 

To what extent is changing legislation affecting any of Magna's more traditional businesses?

Magna Powertrain is a transmission manufacturer cutting gears and steel, etc. Those legislative changes drive us to achieve more refinement for mass, consider special processes for materials and so on. The same with the rest of Magna's businesses. For example, Cosma used to be framing but now they are heavily into uni-bodies. A big portion of their business is high pressure vacuum die-castings for aluminium body structures to achieve lightweighting. So we don't really change the business we are in but update our product lines so that we have the right solutions in order to bring to the customers so that they can meet their requirements.

How will alternative powertrains affect the types of your AWD design?

There is two things. If you are doing an alternative powertrain – which is electric drive – then you are always going to be limited by the energy supply. How much is available in the battery pack will determine how you can use that in an off-road condition because you may not have as many opportunities off-road for regeneration. Dynamically, handling and other things on-road in the vehicle will work fine.  Where some of it is not really going to impact Magna too much is where OEMs are putting the alternative powertrain in combination with the engine. For instance, a CISG – which some people refer to as a P2 – will probably be more popular in north-south configurations of vehicles than east-west because of the structure of the engine bay box for the engine transmission on a front wheel drive traverse mounted [that] may not have the space. So north-south is seen as the predominant solution. So I think that, alternative drive wise, the power source is not going to impact AWD components as much. And then we also have the solution of electric rear axle drive solution, eRAD.