"From rolling chassis to electric vehicle in 12 to 18 months." That was the statement made by Harald Kröger, president of Automotive Electronics at Bosch, during a transportation tech presentation.
Kröger was referring to Bosch's new 48-volt electric drive system, consisting of six components, which can be fitted to a wide range of light vehicles.
The automotive landscape is littered with electric vehicle startups, done in by the prohibitive cost of developing and marketing a new car. Tesla stands out as a success, so far, due to deep-pocketed investors and public enthusiasm. But much of that investment went into years of research and development on an electric drive system.
Bosch's drive system potentially gives startups an edge, taking care of the entire drivetrain and leaving them to develop a rolling chassis ready to accept battery packs and motors.
Electrons meet the road
During demonstrations at a Bosch-sponsored event on its proving grounds in Germany, the company showed how it implemented the system on a scooter, small passenger car and urban delivery truck.
German electric scooter maker Govecs used Bosch's system to revive the Simson KR51, known as the Schwalbe, a popular scooter from the former East Germany. The Schwalbe, which began production in the 1960s, used a one cylinder two-stroke engine, and gave the East Germans inexpensive transportation.
Fast forward to 2017, where Govecs' electric version of the Schwalbe has the potential to reduce traffic and pollution in the now-united Germany. The model retains the classic design of its predecessor, but uses a 4 kilowatt motor and 2.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack from Bosch's electric drive system. That gives it a top speed of 28 mph and range of about 40 miles. Add another battery pack and that range doubles. Those specs would work for a large city, like Berlin or New York.
Similarly, electric car startup e.Go Mobile applied Bosch's modular system to a small, four passenger city car, the Life. In this application, the Life can go a maximum of 100 miles with a top speed of about 65 mph. A small vehicle such as this would be suitable for a typical European commute, although may come up short for most US cities. More impressively, e.Go says the Life will base for 15,900 Euro ($18,233).
Bosch also worked with Deutsche Post, the German postal service, to develop a new version of its StreetScooter electric delivery truck. The four-wheeled StreetScooter consists of a two-person cab and a cargo box.
EV building blocks
Bosch's system and Kröger's statement about development times underscores the relative simplicity of electric drive systems compared to internal combustion engines. The drive system consists of an electric motor, battery pack, control module, charger, and even a display unit for the driver and a smartphone app for remote functions.
The company cites the scalability of the system, as a client could adapt it to different types of vehicles and add battery packs to increase range.
While the 48-volt drive system is available now, Bosch has another component in store that works for larger electric vehicles, which it calls the eAxle. This component combines electric motor, reduction gear and differential into one compact piece.
The eAxle's electric motor output ranges from 50 to 300 kilowatts, making it suitable for anything from a city runabout to a Tesla-sized luxury vehicle. Bosch expects the eAxle to go into production in the next few years.
The availability of modular electric drives, combined with off-the-shelf suspension and steering components, could lead to a proliferation of new electric vehicle startups. New companies can focus on designing vehicle bodies to fit specific niches, without the need for much research and development or large-scale manufacturing lines.
Likewise, a range of companies, from startups to big tech companies to traditional automotive equipment suppliers, are working on end-to-end self-driving systems for cars. These systems can be used for driver assistance features in the near future, and full autonomy further out, giving an electric vehicle startup a set of features as advanced as the biggest automakers can offer.
The big, well-known automotive names may end up seeing a host of startup competition.
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