Nexteer Automotive’s EPS and electronic architecture

Nexteer Automotive’s EPS and electronic architecture

Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with tier one component suppliers, we spoke to executives of Nexteer about megatrends in the car steering market, steer-by-wire systems and growth of electric power steering (EPS) fitment in BRIC countries.

What are the megatrends in the automotive car steering industry and how could that shape the look and feel of tomorrow's steering?

There are a few megatrends that we can see when it comes to the steering industry. One of them is definitely reducing the occurrence rate of 'Loss of Assist' in EPS via hardware and software solutions. Also, continuous activities to add features to base EPS, mainly via software and increasing value with minimal impact on cost, like Park Assist, Wheel Imbalance Rejection or Lane Keeping Assist.

What also seems to be important in the industry at the moment, are highly redundant architectures to achieve low Failure In Time (FIT) rates for 'Highly Automated Driving' and/or autonomous driving.

Moreover, steer-by-wire will provide additional degrees of freedom to enable additional functions and features, including stationary steering wheel during automated driving, variable ratio and others.

We are hearing a lot about automated driving, specifically the technologies that will support it. Could you explain what distinguishes your Steering on Demand from other solutions?

The new Nexteer technologies, Nexteer Steering on Demand System and Nexteer Quiet Wheel Steering, were designed to bring as much safety and comfort for vehicle drivers and passengers as possible. One of the main innovations – and at the same time something that distinguishes us from the competition – is the Quiet Wheel, where the steering wheel remains still during automated driving. Therefore, the potential danger of a fast rotating steering wheel is eliminated and the driver's safety and sense of security are enhanced.  The additional feature is the 'stowable' column that automatically retracts into the dashboard when automated driving is engaged, giving the driver additional space and comfort.

Steer-by-wire systems have also been talked about for years. What's your view on its prospects?

The interest in steer-by-wire is increasing significantly, which is partially why we are in the game, and there are a few reasons behind it. Development of highly redundant architectures for automated driving has definitely reduced the gap relative to needed component designs. Moreover, given the available technology, the cost gap compared to base steering is much reduced. Therefore, we decided to utilise steer-by-wire technology when developing Nexteer automated driving solutions.

Both Nexteer Steering on Demand System and Nexteer Quiet Wheel Steering technologies utilise the steer-by-wire technology.  While steer-by-wire does not require a mechanical link between the road wheels and steering wheel, Nexteer can tune the system for a premium steering feel and responsiveness. Reliable system performance is also enhanced through system integration of sensors and mechanical technologies.

We understand that Nexteer Automotive has formed a joint venture with Continental to develop motion control systems and actuator components for automated driving. What will each partner offer and what are your aims for further collaboration?

The team that will be created of Continental and Nexteer engineers will join forces on braking and steering systems integration and enhanced by-wire development. It will also create common safety architectures and strategies for redundant, operationally safe systems.

Last year, Nexteer Automotive opened a factory in Chongqing's Jiangjin District. How is Nexteer currently performing as a business in Asia, specifically China? Where is the growth coming from?

With enhanced production capabilities since 2013, Nexteer can take full advantage of China's ongoing conversion to EPS by offering a range of passenger vehicle applications, produced in the region of consumption – covering A/B segment through light commercial vehicles. The primary driver of technical conversion from hydraulic power steering (HPS) to EPS has been regional legislation – governing automotive fuel economy & exhaust emissions. Conversion to an electric power steering system delivers one of the greatest fuel efficiency gains an OEM can make.

Furthermore, Nexteer EPS systems enable an expanding range of advanced driver assistance features such as active return to centre lane keeping and haptic feedback, among others. Nexteer is now in high volume production of an affordable brush motor-based EPS (BEPS) system in China and market reception has been encouraging. Developed at the company's engineering centre in Saginaw, Michigan, USA, this high-value EPS system was optimised for local requirements at our China Application Technology Centre in Suzhou to deliver advanced steering performance to China domestic and developing market customers.

In 2015, the company registered a new indirect wholly-owned subsidiary, Nexteer Automotive Systems (Liuzhou) Co Ltd, in China and continues to expand manufacturing capacities for BEPS. In October 2016, Chongqing Nexteer Steering System Co Ltd, was co-funded by Nexteer Automotive and Chongqing Jianshe Industry. Nexteer China now produces the entire Nexteer EPS product portfolio. Currently there are almost 18 million EPS units produced in China and the market is expected to grow to around 24 million in 2020.

What about India? Nexteer Automotive opened its third manufacturing plant there last year - joining plants in Bangalore and Gurgaon - and the 22nd globally.

For the remainder of this Q&A, go to Global light vehicle steering market - forecasts to 2031