Conti targets small cars with new hybrid drive

Hanover, Germany — Continental has not yet spun off its powertrain division — to be called Vitesco Technologies — but the supplier is already displaying some of the technologies it hopes to pitch to automakers in the coming years.

Chief among them is a 48-volt drive system that Continental says allows full-electric operation without the complexity, cost and weight of a typical high-voltage hybrid.

The system consists of a new 30 kW, water-cooled electric motor positioned between the combustion engine and the transmission, and power electronics that Continental says have been optimized to handle higher currents and are more efficient.

Even though the system is 48 volts rather than high-voltage, as in a conventional hybrid, Continental says it does not consider it to be a “mild” hybrid because of its ability to operate in electric-only mode.

Executives would not provide range figures, but say they expect CO2 emissions reductions of around 20 percent, compared with 10% for a current 48-volt mild hybrid system.

Lower CO2 emissions means the drive will also improve fuel economy. Top speed in electric-only mode is 80 kph (50 mph) to 90 kph (56 mph).

Stefan Lauer, project manager for advanced development in Continental’s powertrain division, said the system was suited for minicars as well as small and compact cars.

“We expect to see a distribution of electrification solutions,” he said, adding that midsize and larger vehicles would benefit most from a high-voltage plug-in hybrid system.

A prototype version of the drivetrain was fitted to a Ford Focus with a three-cylinder gasoline engine at a Continental technology exhibition here. In a brief test, the car started in full electric mode and remained there in urban driving conditions. Pressing firmly on the accelerator activated the gasoline engine.

Other companies are developing hybrid systems with the same goals. Renault will introduce its 12-volt E-Tech hybrid powertrain, with two small electric motors connected to the gearbox, on the new Clio early next year.

Spinoff agility

Continental has taken the first steps toward spinning off its powertrain unit under the name Vitesco Technologies, in an effort, the company says, to react more quickly to emissions-driven market conditions.

Since 30 April, it has operated as a separate business, with a partial IPO now planned for the end of this year, with the start of trading scheduled for 2020.

Continental’s powertrain order book stood at €11 billion at the end of 2018, with €2 billion of that for electrification.

Vitesco Technologies will be led by Andreas Wolf, who was appointed head of Continental’s powertrain division in September 2018.

The new company will have three business areas: engine and drivetrain systems, which includes turbochargers, control units, injection systems and exhaust gas treatment; powertrain components, which includes catalytic converters, sensors and activators, and fuel delivery modules; and hybrid and electric vehicles.

Wolf said that increasing divergence in regulations from region to region called for more flexibility. “As an independent company, we have more freedom as a business unit to react quickly and individually to the many different requirements,” he said in a news release this week.