ECM (Electric Corner Modules) or In-Wheel Motors technology is more of a revolution rather than an evolution technology. ECM can be a combination of wheel, tyres, motors, brake, steering, suspension, and cooling system. Implementation of ECM eliminates the need of components such as engine, transmission, differentials, cardan shaft. The other advantages include weight reduction by 10%-25% depending on ECM type and fuel savings of 20%-30%.
Alternative Powertrain vehicles to drive the growth of ECM
Implementation of ECM requires high voltage system (above 42V) for energy and power transfer to and from electric motor and battery. Hence conventional vehicles are not likely to be implemented with ECM. Alternative powertrain vehicles such as Hybrids, Fuel Cells, Electric vehicles have higher voltage ranges (42V and above) and hence are the likely vehicle types to be equipped with ECM.
ECM can be implemented either on 2 rear wheels, 2 front wheels or on all 4 wheels. ECM implementation is likely to happen on 2 rear wheels at first due to easier implementation and lesser architectural changes within the vehicle. Full hybrids and plug-in hybrids are likely to be implemented with ECM on 2 rear wheels by 2011/2012. In the future, ECM implementation is likely to happen on all 4 wheels for fuel cell and electric vehicles. Further, advancement in by-wire technologies is critical for ECM implementation on all 4 wheels.
Japan to be at the forefront
Japanese OEMs such as Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi have already showcased ECM technology in their electric and fuel cell vehicles. Tyre supplier Bridgestone has also been at the forefront to unveil a concept in-wheel motor system in 2003. Due to advancement in hybrid, fuel cell technology and stringent emission regulations in Japan, Japan is likely to be the first region to implement ECM.
However, going forward North America and Europe will follow suit and implement ECM in the coming years. Europe has shown interest in electric vehicles while North America has surging demand in terms of hybrid vehicles. Frost & Sullivan estimates around 150,000 vehicles in NA and 120,000 vehicles in EU to be equipped with in-wheel motor technology by 2015.
Suppliers to drive the market for ECM
Suppliers such as Bridgestone, Michelin, Continental (Siemens VDO) have already unveiled concepts in terms of ECM technology. However some of the concepts still face challenges in terms of unsprung mass, higher temperatures of motors at high speed, operations on dusty roads. Apart from Japanese OEMs such as Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi, none of the other OEMs have shown interest in terms of ECM. Hence, ECM market will be driven by tire and motor suppliers rather than OEMs.
ECM is still at an early stage of development. Advantages such as design flexibility, weight savings (10%-25%), fuel savings (20%-30%), emission reductions (10%-30%) compared to conventional vehicles are likely to drive the growth for ECM in the future. ECM will be implemented in sports, SUV and MPV segment vehicles and is likely to trickle down to medium and low segment vehicles. Tie-ups between OEMs and suppliers for ECM implementation will further aid in ECM implementation at a faster pace.
Vijayendra R Rao, Industry Manager Powertrain, Frost & Sullivan