By on March 14, 2016

Volvo XC90 eAxle (Image: GKN)

Front-wheel drive, four-cylinder cars have defined the automotive C-segment for decades, but maybe these automakers aren’t dreaming big enough.

That’s the message being sent by global technology supplier GKN Automotive, which really, really wants automakers to buy a lower-cost version of its eAxle for use in affordable compacts. GKN says the unit would allow the segment to more easily offer electric all-wheel drive and plug-in capability.

Developed by the GKN Driveline division, a high-end version of the eAxle exists in the BMW i8, Porsche 918 and Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in.

By putting electric power to the rear wheels of a normally front-drive vehicle, GKN claims their downsized eAxle module would shorten 0-60 miles per hour acceleration times by several seconds, while making a fully-electric driving mode possible. Emissions and fuel consumption could also be reduced significantly.

“GKN leads the industry in eAxle technology, and we want to make plug-in hybrids a simple upgrade for consumers and manufacturers,” stated GKN Automotive President of Engineering Peter Moelgg in a release.

“Innovations by our hardware and software engineers will place the performance and efficiency benefits of plug-ins within the reach of many more motorists.”

The new eAxle weighs 46 pounds, and is able to provide an additional 88 horsepower to the rear wheels of a compatible vehicle. An electromechanically actuated dog clutch would disconnect the electric motor above a certain speed, allowing the conventional engine to power the car via the front axle.

With a 9.3 kWh battery and 81-horsepower electric motor connected to its eAxle, a Volvo XC90 (which weighs at least 1,500 pounds more than your average compact) claims an electric range of about 15 miles.

Are we on the verge of seeing a Honda Civic plug-in? An all-wheel-drive Hyundai Elantra? Will Subaru end up looking like an environment-destroying dinosaur?

As with everything else, that’s for the automakers’ bean counters to decide.

[Image: GKN Automotive]

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39 Comments on “GKN Wants Compact Car Makers to Demand More From Their Rear Axles...”

  • avatar

    “As with everything else, that’s for the automakers’ bean counters to decide”
    pretty much sums it up.

  • avatar

    So now when your CV boot tears and starts throwing grease, the mechanic has to drop your rear e-engine to replace. Brilliant!

  • avatar

    So this would basically be a higher performance version of the Hitachi’s e-4WD system that has been in Japanese market Nissan and Mazda since 2002?

  • avatar

    Is there really much demand in the market for a cheap hybrid that is not already filled by the Prius, Volt, and a couple of other low volume models? I mean, we are talking about compact cars here.

    I am making a few assumptions here:
    – The fuel economy will still be 10-20% lower than a Prius.
    – The additional cost of a battery, motor, axle, cooling, etc will add about $2,000 to the cost of the car.
    -Gas rebounds to around $4/gallon, but not much higher, by the time this can get on a production car.
    -Since even Subaru can’t really charge a premium for AWD in the lower cost segments, I will assume that is not a benefit most of the customer base is willing to pay extra for.

    So other than just to be different or have a rarer model than the boring Prius, what am I missing that’s going to give this significant volume?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the AWD is the bigger selling point. Subaru at least here in New England do get a premium over their competitors if not in MSRP then in transaction price. My guess is your correct on the MSRP increase for the system around 2k. The difference would be a much lower development and implementation cost to an automaker over traditional AWD. I think the potential is in cars like the Mazda 3 and Focus which command reasonably high prices already and have a good fan base who would like an AWD option.

    • 0 avatar

      As the Germans need Europe’s diesel saturated, low annual mileage, market to buy new cars; their Herr Doktors will convincingly “scientifically demonstrate” that urban air quality is dangerously bad as a result of diesel emissions. So, diesel cars will be banned in urban centers. Then, the Germans can sell diesel hybrids, netting diesel highway mileage and CO2 numbers, but running “emissions free”, on battery, in he city. And with AWD for the weekend ski trip, as a nice bonus.

  • avatar

    “Will Subaru end up looking like an environment-destroying dinosaur?”

    I knew there was a reason I liked the Outback 3.6R so much…

  • avatar

    This will become big within a few years. Big by 2020.

    Reason? It’s a way to get AWD and still be fuel efficient (MORE efficent than traditional ICE!!!).

    Remember… AWD is less efficent because of greater friction driving all 4 wheels. But with an electric motor driving the rear wheels (or the front wheels if rear wheel drive), you eliminate the AWD fricton. You also eliminate the differential failure that eventually happens thousands of miles down the road or caused by tires that weren’t rotated…

    I think I saw an article earlier saying that Subaru was going to make a rear wheel drive car with electric motors driving the front wheels. If that article exists, it confirms that even Subaru may be abandoning traditional AWD in favor of front or rear wheel drive with electrics driving the non ICE axles.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Don’t forget that you don’t need to run a drive shaft under the passenger compartment. Isn’t the new Chrysler minivan supposed to run this setup?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not exactly champing at the bit for AWD, but those are excellent points

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I’ve met dozens of people with Subies that had rear axle failure. Not. Some of the turbo-it-beyond reason WRX crowd have managed, but they usually tear the half-shafts out first.

      GKN has been pushing this e-axle for a couple of years, along with Twinster. Let’s see, I have to install some huge battery, giant cables to allow current flow for 88hp, etc. The thing costs more.

      I’ll keep the regular Subie AWD even if uses marginally more fuel. A rear diff and propshaft and little MPT module made by the hundreds of thousands each year is dead cheap for them to buy rather than throwing them out and installing an e-axle and assorted gubbins and battery. Another example of overdesigning for the real world. Some people will feel the sylvan wind in their hair and pay more. Not me.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s cheap if it’s already designed and planned in for your entire production (Subaru) but if it’s a low volume option the drive shaft rear axle suspension and transfer case end up more then the battery and motors (mostly in development dollars). So that’s where I would see it and also where AWD has packaging issues.

        As to the failures yes the Subies have been pretty good though I did throw a rear drive shaft at 130,000 miles on my Outback. Look up Volvo rear diffs on a forum and you will find lot’s of first gens missing their rear drive shaft from premature failure and converted to FWD by their owners. Also lots of other AWD related failures can be found online from various (mostly euro) brands.

  • avatar

    When I first saw the press release my first thought was about the Turbonique microturbine powered drag racing axle.

  • avatar

    This benefits with local driving. If I go on a trip, let me leave the battery at home. I don’t want to haul that extra weight around.

    • 0 avatar

      3rd time you pull that battery out of it’s compartment you’ll stop trying.

      Honestly, you probably haul around more wasteful weight than you realize and certainly the added benefit of batteries outweigh their weight off-set.

  • avatar

    Mitsu Outlander PHEV uses this type of rear axle, and outsells its diesel AWD equivalents, (actually great seller for Mits in UK etc, its a 1/3 of Mitsubishi’s entire brand volume in UK)

    BYD’s PHEV use this type of rear axle, and sell great for BYD

    Tesla uses a axle mounted motor on both its RWD and AWD platforms…

    the successful EVs/PHEVs use this type of axle, yes Nissan may use FWD and sell more leafs, but we all know the Mits PHEV, BYD PHEVs and the Tesla are far more profitable cars, and more successful per their companies expectations.

  • avatar

    This sounds like the new RAV4 Hybrid. Front wheels driven by gas motor, rear wheels driven by electric motor. Not sure if they can go totally electric or if the hybrid is only in addition to the gas motor.
    At least I think that is what Alex Dykes’ review said.

    • 0 avatar

      The new RAVE4 Hybrid will have the basic Toyota eCVT driving the front wheels. So it can operate with the engine off up to what ever speed causes the range motor/generator to exceed its critical speed.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    Yea Mon. I want to hoist this into all my sub compacts and go mini hunting. CL quips aside though, I am thinking this company’s product would work with the 85mm/85mm boxer engine.

  • avatar

    My 2006 Highlander Hybrid approves of this message.

  • avatar

    About darn time. Never made sense to me to package the hybrid drive motor on the front axle rather than the rear.

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