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Friday
Sep152017

Frankfurt 2017: Selling the Greater Good

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Despite temps in the mid 60s and overcast skies, it was hard to miss the environmental backdrop at the Frankfurt show. Armchair climatologists blamed climate change for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, never acknowledging the 12-year hiatus of Category 3-5 hurricanes that preceded these storms or the myriad explanations as to why it had nothing to do with the storms’ force or severity. Greenpeace protesters stood outside the main hall holding signs in both English and German that said, “The oil age is ending!” Behind them, as a backdrop, was 3/4 of a car propped up to look as if it had crashed into the ground. It made for a nice piece of street theater, and echoed the sentiments of many carmakers and media alike.

The supplier community, however, told a different story. For every car exec. touting a 25% penetration rate for EVs by 2025, there was a supplier exec. saying his order sheet showed a maximum 5% penetration rate for pure EVs by that date. Who is right? Bet on folks like the suppliers who actually have to produce this technology. They have the most skin in the game.

The one thing that might tip the balance (though not by 2025) is the increasing number of governments moving from a technology-neutral approach to emissions control to outright bans on the production of pure gasoline or diesel vehicles. This is a not unexpected overreaction to VW’s diesel cheat, itself a result of government incentives to increase diesel sales as a way to reduce CO2 emissions, and the sanctimony that comes with the Paris climate accord. China’s public support for a similar ban was doubly ironic. As a communist country it’s familiar with Soviet-style command-and-control policies, as well as the hypocrisy of begging for leniency when forced to reach those goals. It will be interesting to see how these governments react now that they have taken full responsibility for the costs and consequences of their decisions, though it’ll probably look something like the meeting of the Sanford Neighborhood Watch Alliance in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie Hot Fuzz when they do.

Mercedes-AMG Project One

F1 power and Complexity for the Chosen Few.

More than 1,000 horsepower. A top speed of more than 217 mph. Formula 1 hybrid technology. It is, says Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG’s board of management and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, “…the first Formula 1 car with MOT (Ministry of Transport) approval.”  Uh, well, sorta.

Unlike those F1 cars Mercedes engineers and pays for, the Project One is a plug-in hybrid two-seater with two electric motors that drive the front wheels. Like the F1 cars, it is powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged, direct-injected V6 whose four overhead cams are driven by spur gears, not belts or chains. The single turbocharger (or MGU-H — Motor Generator Unit-Heat — in F1 parlance) splits the turbocharger in half, with the turbine on the exhaust side and the compressor wheel on the intake side of the engine, joined together by a long shaft. This shaft runs through an electric motor of approximately 90 kW (121 hp), and electric power can be used to drive the compressor turbine at speeds up to 100,000 rpm to eliminate turbo lag. It also scavenges surplus energy, and either dumps it into the high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack, or feeds it to a 120 kW (161 hp) electric motor (the MGU-K, or Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic) that is attached to the engine and provides power directly to the crankshaft via a spur gear.

In keeping with its F1 roots, the valves use a pneumatic actuation system instead of valve springs. This eliminates valve float, speeds valve movement, and increases the engine’s rpm limit. This is especially important in F1 where engine speeds of nearly 20,000 rpm are not uncommon. However, it also comes in handy for a “street” motor that has a rev limit of “just” 11,000 rpm. The reduction in engine speed, says Mercedes-AMG, makes it possible for the engine to run on Super Premium unleaded fuel. In addition, the company says the hybridized powerplant will have a thermal efficiency of over 40%, though you have to marvel at the level of cost and complexity necessary to add the two-to-seven percent increase over the best conventional series production engines available today.

Where the powertrain diverges the most from F1 practice, however, is in the use of a pair of 120 kW motors to drive the front wheels. It allows the individual acceleration and deceleration of each wheel. This torque vectoring capability should not only make the Project One extremely agile, but Mercedes-AMG estimates that under optimal conditions the motors will be able to recover up to 80% of braking energy in everyday driving conditions.

The battery cell design, arrangement, and the cooling system that keeps them from exceeding optimal temperature is the same as used on the Mercedes-AMG F1 car. The battery, however, is larger so as to provide up to 25 km (15.5 miles) of electric-only driving range.The battery pack and DC/DC converter are located in the vehicle floor behind the front axle. In addition, the electrical system operates at 800 volts instead of 400, and this brings significant reductions in the size and weight of the cables.

Another area of difference is in the transmission used. The Project One has a unique eight-speed manual gearbox designed exclusively for the car. Like the F1 unit, it is hydraulically activated, but can be operated in both automatic and manual modes. Oh, and unlike the F1 system, neither the engine nor the transmission have to be carefully run-in using pre-heated oils and fluids from cold due to exceedingly tight tolerances.

Both the front and rear suspensions are multi-link designs, though the rear suspension is mounted directly to the engine/transmission unit. The pushrod coil-over units are installed laterally across the car, perpendicular to the vehicle’s direction of travel. Mercedes-AMG claims this layout replaces the need for conventional anti-roll bars, prevents roll even during rapid direction changes, and does not adversely affect ride.

The Project One wears 285/35ZR-19 tires on 10J x 19 wheels up front and 335/30ZR-20 tires on 12 J x 20 wheels in the rear. The wheels are 10-spoke forged aluminum wheels with a center-lock nut and an aerodynamically optimized carbon fiber cover. Carbon ceramic brakes are used at each corner.

A central air intake runs over the roof, and merges into a vertical shark fin that improves lateral stability at speed. This combination splits the rear window — there to allow passersby to see the power unit as much as to improve rear visibility — and leads to a pair of large NACA ducts that feed air to the engine and transmission oil coolers. Up front, the splitter extends automatically to increase downforce, and the active ventilation louvers in the front fenders open. In the rear there is a surprisingly abrupt vertical spoiler lip and a double diffuser that is interrupted only by the centrally located exhaust pipe

Inside, the individual seats feature adjustable backrests, but are bolted to the floor. Both the steering column and pedals extend or retract to adjust to the driver. The instrument panel is a functional structural component that places two high-resolution free-standing displays the driver’s field of vision. One is slightly raised and located directly in front of the driver, while the other is located to the right of the center console and angled toward the driver. To drive home the F1 similarities, the steering wheel has flattened upper and lower sections, as well as a pair of integrated controllers that adjust things like the LED shift display in the wheel’s upper section, driving modes and suspension settings. A roof-mounted aluminum housing holds a screen that displays real-time images from the rear camera. Thus the driver gets an unencumbered view to the rear, something that would not be possible with the split rear widow and a conventional rearview mirror. More encumbered is the buyer’s bank account. Each of the 275 production versions of the Project One — all of which are spoken for — have been sold for $2.72 million each.

Mercedes Concept EQA

The first of many EVs to come.

As you can guess from the name, the EQA concept is a look at what an A-Class EV might look like when it debuts in the mid 2020s. And it is just one of many EV concepts that light up their faux grille area, much like the radiator badge on an old British Wolseley motor car, as a sign of their significance. Mercedes calls this use of light — in this case laser-activated fibers embedded in a fiber optic cable to create a spiral-shaped lighting effect — a new electric aesthetic that evokes the copper windings of an electric motor combined with a pulsing animation that mimics electrical impulses. We call it overkill.

The EQA is powered by a pair of electric motors, one for each axle, with a total system output that can be scaled to provide over 200 kW (268 hp). It has two drive modes, Sport and Sport Plus, that offer different front-to-rear torque splits, and these choices are depicted on the virtual grille via a horizontal flaming wing or vertical struts that simulate a Panamericana radiator grille, respectively. It’s just what you don’t need when traffic cops are watching.

Mercedes claims the largest version of the scalable battery pack should be good for a 400 km (248 miles) on the European test cycle. That number likely will be less when tested in the U.S. as the Euro cycle usually overestimates the available range.

Honda Urban EV Concept

An electric Honda even Fernando Alonso could love.

Stylistically, Honda’s Urban EV Concept is a modern take on the original Civic hatchback, but that’s where the similarities end. The Urban EV Concept is built on a dedicated platform that will underpin Honda’s future electric vehicles, and a production vehicle will be sold in Europe in 2019.

The car is 100 mm (3.9 in.) shorter than a Fit, but has a surprisingly muscular stance with wheels at each corner covered by wide fender arches. Like the Mercedes EQA, the grille area trips the light fantastic. Not only is the Honda badge backlit in blue — a feature you can expect on future Honda production EVs — the grille area can be used to display interactive multilingual messages, including greetings, charging status updates, and (this should be popular) advice for other drivers. Surprisingly, given that last item, Honda made no mention of the Urban EV Concept being bulletproof.

The diminutive hatchback seats four on front and rear bench seats (!), and the rear seatbelt retractors are located on the vehicle’s centerline so that they are fully retracted when the rear seat passengers exit through the rear-hinged suicide doors. The front bench is upholstered in gray fabric, while the seatbacks, squabs and arm rests have contemporary wood accents. That same wood is used on the instrument panel, itself a rather simple design. A large panoramic display screen sits ahead of driver and front seat passenger, while two smaller screens are located in the upper door panels where they display images from the rear-facing cameras located in each fender. These take the place of side mirrors, about the only sop to aerodynamics that stands out on the cutely blocky car.

Audi Aicon mobility concept

What’s the point of an Audi you can’t drive yourself?

Audi says the Aicon is a technology demonstrator, “in which the advantages of door-to-door individual transportation are combined with the luxurious ambiance of a first-class cabin.” More than just a robot taxi, the Aicon sits on a wheelbase that, at 136.6 in., is 9.4 in. longer than that of the new A8, stretches 214 in. overall, is a massive 82.7 in. wide, and stands 59.3 in. tall.

The suicide doors open to reveal an opening unencumbered by a B-pillar (something that would be hard to replicate in a production vehicle), a color palette that gets lighter as it goes from the bottom to the top, and a low shoulder line with large windows whose lower half angles outward. Missing are things you’ve come to expect in a car, like a steering wheel, pedals and conventional instrument panel. Instead, you will find individual swiveling front seats complemented by an upholstered two-seat bench that is integrated into the rear panel, thick-pile carpeting, and an adjustable platform that can be used as an ottoman. It’s more living room than automobile, especially since — as autonomous cars won’t ever crash — classic restraint systems are no longer needed. But then they said similar things about the Titanic….

As a transportation module, the Aicon has been designed for sustained long-distance travel at a constant 80 mph. There are four identical electric motors — two for each axle — producing a total of 260 kW (349 hp) and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, and providing variable torque split all-wheel drive. The batteries (Audi won’t say anything other than they are encased in a solid body and have an energy capacity much greater than lithium-ion) are located under the floor. Range (It’s a concept. Who’s going to hold you to the numbers?) is estimated at 434-497 miles on a full charge. And that charging, if you have a high capacity 800-volt charger, takes less than 30 minutes. Or it can be inductively charged. Either way, the Aicon can plug in without human intervention.

And then there’s the exterior lighting. The front lighting system features more than 600 full-color 3D pixels that can broadcast graphics, animations, visualizations, and adapt its countenance to the driving situation. The horizontal lighting elements on either side of the virtual grille are shaped like eyes and can be squinted or expanded for a wide-eyed look. They can even follow passersby or other road users, while the rest of the display uses animations to warn pedestrians or cyclists of dangerous situations. And, if that’s not enough, a lighted drone is activated when exiting the Aicon at night to illuminate the passengers’ path. Which leaves one question: What the hell is in the water at Audi’s design and development center in Ingolstadt?

VW Group SEDRIC

The perfect transportation module for a dystopian, “Blade Runner” world.

Let’s get this out of the way at the start: SEDRIC stands for SElf DRIving Car. Built under the VW Group banner (it’s not part of any particular brand under that banner), SEDRIC “symbolizes the transformation of the company from a thoroughbred manufacturer to an integrated provider of hardware, software and digital mobility services… It permits simple, convenient and safe mobility for everybody at the touch of a button.”

SEDRIC arose out of a collaboration between the Future Center in Europe and Volkswagen Group Research in Wolfsburg, Germany. And though the press material kept talking about a vehicle “designed by people for people,” the final result is as cold and clinical as public transportation, and would not look out of place in a remake of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Ridley’s Scott’s Blade Runner. On the plus side, the VW Group says the SEDRIC will offer mobility to the visually impaired, elderly, disabled and children. Which makes it an individualized form of public transportation.

BMW i Vision Dynamics

A first look at BMW’s i5 electric sedan.

When it reaches production as the i5, this will be one of the 12 full-electric vehicles in BMW’s lineup come 2025, and one of the most important. Externally it is about the size of the 3 Series, but inside it has the space of the 5 Series. This is due to the packaging advantages of an electric drivetrain. With the batteries under the floor and motor at each axle, there’s more space inside. How much more space, how many more motors, how powerful each is, the battery capacity and range, and other items are left unanswered. We don’t even know how the i5 will be built. Will it use a form of aluminum platform and carbon fiber passenger cell like the i3 and i8, or more conventional construction, like BMW’s current sedans?

Rather than bore us with arcane items like this, BMW spoke enthusiastically about the styling of the new car. The long wheelbase, flowing roofline and short overhangs are consistent with the new crop of EV concepts, but BMW’s designers accentuated the details — including the paint color — to make it look as if it was carved from a single piece of granite.

BMW made a lot of noise about the widow profile, which it called an “iconic styling cue” borrowed from the i3 and i8. (To these eyes the chamfered sections at the top and bottom of the B-pillars look like a repetition of BMW’s famed “Hoffmeister kink”.) That same chamfer appears at the corners of the twin kidney grille outline at the front of the car, and caused more than one critic to compare it to the indented sections on Kia’s “Tiger’s nose” grille.

Mercedes GLC F-Cell

Surprise! EVs haven’t killed off the hydrogen fuel cell.

If electric drive systems are ever going to break through, this may be the way that they do it: a long range, short refueling time hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle with a lithium-ion battery pack to give it plug-in capability. Or, as Mercedes likes to call it, the GLC F-Cell.

The fuel cell has been redesigned to give 40% greater output in a 30% smaller space, and uses 90% less platinum. It can be housed in the engine compartment and installed on the same mounting points as the conventional engine. The lithium-ion battery pack has a total capacity of 13.8 kWh, and is installed under the cargo floor. It can be charged using the onboard 7.2 kW chargers, and is most efficiently used for short trips under battery power. In Hybrid mode, both the battery pack and fuel cell are used, while Charge mode places top priority on charging the battery, and would be used prior to refueling the fuel cell. This setting also gives an electric reserve that can be tapped when climbing hills, accelerating hard, or other instances where the battery pack’s reserve power is needed. It’s also possible to drive exclusively on the fuel cell in order to keep the battery pack’s range in reserve.

The fuel cell is fed by a pair of high-pressure (10,000 lb./in.2) carbon fiber storage tanks that can be replenished with 4.4 kg (9.7 lb.) of hydrogen in just three minutes. That’s about the same time it takes to refuel a car powered by an internal combustion engine, and is more in keeping with buyer’s refueling expectations. One tank is located under the rear seat, while the other sits in place of the driveshaft. Power output for the drive system is 197 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. By 2023, Mercedes expects there to be approximately 400 hydrogen refueling stations in Europe, with similar networks in Japan and the U.S.

BMW Concept X7

So stylistically challenging it makes you yearn for Chris Bangle’s return.

Let’s start at the front where the oversize twin kidney grilles look like cooling vents for a nuclear reactor. They are bracketed by immense air slots to each side (Do the front brakes really need that much air?) that are framed at their outer edges by large L-shaped inserts that look like the upturned ends of a handlebar mustache that separates the upper grilles from the below bumper air intake. This motif is repeated on the rear fascia, and looks no better there.

Tying this all together, if you can claim that, is a silver hockey stick that finishes off the front fender air exits, and travels along the lower body before terminating at the edges of the rear bumper. It add height to the bodyside, which is the exact opposite of the effect created by the body’s lower character line. BMW's design chief says the styling, “employs just a few precise lines and subtle surface work,” but there’s little about the Concept X7’s look that could be called subtle. Even the badge gives up the normal blue-and-white coloring and BMW lettering for a black-and-white motif with “Bayerische Motoren Werke” spelled out in full.

The Concept X7 is 197. 6 in. long, 79.5 in. wide, 70.9 in. tall and sits on a 118.5-in. wheelbase. BMW says it is powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain that delivers 62 miles of pure electric range on the European test cycle. Like the 740e xDrive iPerformance (a name as overwrought as the Concept X7’s styling), it uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four mated to an electric motor integrated into the automatic transmission. In the 7 Series it puts out 255 hp and 295 lb.-ft. It should do about the same in the production X7.

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