“How Can We Move People in Future?”

Wolfgang Wukisiewitsch, Senior Vice President for Future Combustion Engines and Powertrain Architecture at IAV about the powertrain of tomorrow

What will tomorrow’s powertrain look like? Not many questions are subject to such intensive and partly emotional discussions in the automotive industry at the moment. It is an important and inevitable debate. After all, OEMs are being challenged like never before, and not just from ever stricter CO2 limits with the threat of fines and penalties. Social trends will also have a fundamental impact in changing the role that cars play.

At the Vienna Engine Symposium, IAV adopted a clear position with its solution for the future powertrain. We presented a three-cylinder gasoline engine with dedicated hybrid transmission (DHT), which we feel could be the core element in a “Powertrain 2025” for Europe, Asia and the USA. We thus underline our view that the combustion engine still offers plenty of scope, if it is consistently designed for maximum efficiency and packed full of innovative components. One example here includes pre-chamber ignition, which we also presented in Vienna as one possibility for optimizing the gasoline engine step by step.

However, this should certainly not be seen as the end of the diesel engine. It is our view that low-carbon diesel hybrids also have an important role to play in tomorrow’s powertrain. The main thing is to take the emotions out of discussions about the compression ignition engine, for a rational assessment of its potential. It cannot be denied that diesel engines are facing a certain loss of trust, but they are still an interesting option. IAV will therefore continue to bring the subject up with its customers. But optimizing gasoline and diesel engines will not suffice to meet future CO2 limit values. By the middle of the next decade, we estimate that the ideal vehicle fleet will consist of optimized internal combustion engines in hybrid powertrains, with an increasing contribution coming from battery electric powertrains.

But we also have to keep an open mind about other mega trends. Apart from statutory CO2 requirements, expectations for future powertrains are being shaped by social change as well. “Sharing instead of owning”: that is a trend that is currently emerging in bigger cities. Many people no longer want to have their own car. All they want is to get to where they need to go as efficiently as possible while making the best use of their time en route.

Connectivity before driving experience

The big issue is connectivity. Infotainment, simple user interfaces and the possibility of working while on the move – that is how customers will assess a vehicle in future. Once autonomous driving becomes established, scarcely anyone will worry about the driving experience which will become a less significant distinguishing feature.

Demands made of the powertrain will change drastically as a result. Increasingly, it will be a pure commodity, the means to an end. Again, the engine issue will become less emotional with greater emphasis on rational considerations. As a result, on the one hand, there will be fewer base engines in future but far more derivatives, resulting among others in possibly shorter development times. On the other hand, the remaining powertrains will have to meet different demands. Professional fleet operators, such as car sharing providers or hire car companies, put more of a focus on aspects such as efficient charge management.

The new requirements made of vehicles have an impact not just on tomorrow’s powertrain. They also demand that we take a completely different approach. Today it takes several years for a vehicle to go through all the development stages until it reaches SOP. In these fast-moving times, this means that when we develop a product, by the time it eventually goes on sale it will probably fail to meet current customer demands or take account of the latest digital trends.

Development time must be halved

In future, the established OEMs, suppliers and engineering partners will have to adapt to the cycles prevailing in consumer electronics. Otherwise, new and agile automotive players will step in to fill the gap. One solution for picking up pace consists in virtual development methods and new manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, which supplies component prototypes that already offer future volume production quality. The gasoline engine piston we presented in Vienna demonstrated what can already be achieved today.

The coming decades will see rapid changes in our mobility behavior and habits. The car will probably be just one part in a huge mobility puzzle, alongside monocycles, mini-aircraft or supersonic cabins like the Hyperloop. In this context, the question about the powertrain of tomorrow assumes far greater significance.