GKN eAxle is used in BMWs i8

GKN eAxle is used in BMW's i8

GKN said it had produced the industry’s first two-speed eAxle which is being used on BMW's i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.

Theodor Gassmann, GKN Driveline’s director of eDrive systems development, said: "Being the first Tier One to deliver a two-speed eAxle demonstrates GKN’s leadership in electric drive technologies and hybrid driveline systems. Two-speed eAxles will help manufacturers enhance hybrid and electric drivetrains and support the trend to downsize eMotors to reduce weight and cost. With the technology proven in a high-performance vehicle with high levels of refinement, significant savings in CO2 are possible."

Giving the electric motor an additional gear ratio improves acceleration and pure electric range, benefiting both driving dynamics and CO2 emissions. The two-speed eAxle also enables the motor and all its associated systems to be downsized, reducing mass and further increasing efficiency.

eAxle technology enables automakers to produce 'axle-split hybrids'. A conventional or hybridised engine provides the primary power to either the front or rear wheels with the other axle driven by an eAxle module. The technology responds intelligently to deliver an instant high-torque all-wheel drive experience, a useful pure electric range or a refined, efficient parallel hybrid mode. No other hybrid architecture offers such a strong combination of efficiency, traction, dynamics and packaging, GKN claimed.

Until now electric and axle-split hybrid vehicles have used single-speed transmissions. Using a fixed ratio limits electric drives in terms of either acceleration or top speed as they must disconnect at certain speeds to prevent the motor overspinning. The two-speed eAxle is the first to enable the electric drive to boost the vehicle’s performance across its entire speed range.

Designing the two-speed eAxle for a high-performance sports car application placed tight packaging requirements on the development team. To achieve high torque density in a package that weighs just 27kg and measures less than 325mm by 562mm by 313mm, some remarkable design decisions were made.

To make the system narrower, the shift mechanism sits on the input shaft instead of the intermediate shaft in the middle of the transmission. Even with the input shaft spinning at up to 11,400rpm, precise software control of the eMotor and the synchro-actuation achieves a smooth gearshift in all conditions.

"Gear shifts are completely transparent to the driver," said Gassmann. "The smooth electromechanically actuated shift between the synchronised ratios has enabled our eAxle to set new benchmarks for comfort and NVH. The eAxle combines superior efficiency of 97% with high gear shift comfort and low gear noise. And yet the shift mechanism is a proven technology with components already in series production, providing a robust and cost-effective solution.

"We were able to take the eAxle from concept to production in just 24 months."

"Going forward, pairing electric powertrains with multi-speed transmissions is enabling us to supply downsized eDrive modules for future hybrid and electric vehicles. The technology also enables more radical future eMotor downsizing strategies."

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