Autonomous trends at Frankfurt Motor Show

Frankfurt Motor Show

Ian Fletcher, principal analyst at IHS Markit, looks at the trends in electrification and autonomy technology at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which starts this week

Car makers at Frankfurt are tackling many of the industry's hot topics, while at the same time offering something for enthusiasts. These include areas such as electrification, connectivity and autonomy, although the act of driving as a pleasurable pastime is also seen.

This underlines the differing demands on OEMs in terms of meeting both consumer expectations and regulatory requirements. At the Frankfurt Motor Show, car makers keen to show that they are at the forefront of the key industry trends: electrification, autonomy and connectivity. However, this has gone hand in hand with vehicles for enthusiasts. This is shown most clearly at the three German premium brands – BMW, Mercedes and Audi and their sibling brands.

BMW formally presented the i3S, a sportier variant that has been launched alongside the facelifted i3, and the Mini Electric Concept, which is intended to preview the forthcoming production Mini EV that is due to be introduced in 2019.

Although the new Rolls-Royce Phantom and the BMW Concept X7 iPerformance – a preview of the brand's new luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV) – were seen in the wings, the star was undoubtedly the much-rumoured BMW i Vision Dynamics. The company has said this has been designed as a four-door Gran Coupé with long-wheel base, short overhangs, swooping roofline and an exceptionally prominent kidney grille; it will sit between the i3 and i8.

Its electric powertrain is said to be capable of accelerating the vehicle to 100km/h in four seconds and on to a top-speed of 200km/h. It is also said to be capable of travelling 600km on a charge. BMW said it will eventually make series production, with the intention that it will form part of its line of 25 models with electrified drive systems, of which 12 will be battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

The group's racing division, BMW Motorsport, is presenting the BMW M8 GTE. This is the competition variant of its forthcoming BMW 8-Series that will take part in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in 2018, including the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans. Changes to the standard 8-Series include a composite body with carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) outer shell helping to keep weight down to 1220kg, larger aerodynamic aids and wider track, a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine developing around 500 bhp (depending on specification) and a six-speed sequential transmission.

Daimler is showing a host of concepts at the event, many of these featuring multiple aspects of its Case connected, autonomous, shared and electric (Case) strategy. CEO Dieter Zetsche said the company intended to offer an electrified variant for every model in its portfolio by 2022, with a total of around 50 at this point. These will feature the EQ label, and the first will be the PHEV S560e that will have a 50km electric-only range.

The Concept EQA compact electric vehicle concept is also being shown. This stylish five-door hatchback features electric motors on the front and rear axles, offering system power of around 200kW, torque of 500Nm, and all-wheel drive as well as different axle torque distributions and characteristics in different driving modes. These modes can change the look of the grille at the front of the vehicle.

It is said that customers can choose their battery size using the scalable components, which can offer up to 60kWh and 400km of range. It can also use rapid charging stations that enable it to be charged enough in less than ten minutes to travel 100km. However, Daimler has said that the first EQ brand model will be the EQC, based on the Generation EQ crossover concept revealed at last year’s Paris Motor Show.

Daimler is also unveiling the Smart vision EQ ForTwo at the same time as revealing that the brand will go fully electric by 2020. Britta Seeger, member of the board of management of Daimler with responsibility for Mercedes-Benz Cars marketing and sales, said that this vehicle was the "perfect embodiment" of the Case strategy. Interestingly, it has been suggested that in terms of the car-sharing element, the combination of autonomous driving meaning the vehicles would always be on the move, and its connectedness using data from users, should lead to less congestion in future due to a need for fewer cars. However, it has also been said that any benefits will be limited until a smart infrastructure is in place that it can leverage.

At the other end of the spectrum, its EQ branding is also to be found on the Mercedes-AMG Project One. However, the centre of attention remained on the brand's two autonomous concepts.

Following the latest-generation A8 sedan which features level-three technology as an option (subject to approvals), the Elaine is an electric vehicle designed at level four, which offers a high level of automation but still requires a driver and has a steering and wheel and pedals. The even more advanced Aicon has been designed for level-five autonomous driving, with no steering wheel or pedals, and an interior that has what it calls a "variable seating concept". The brand's chairman Rupert Stadler said with the technology Audi aimed to give customers a "25th hour" as well as an added living space, workspace or retreat.

While Audi seems intent on removing the driver from the role of driving, its Audi Sport unit has a different idea with the reveal of the R8 RWS. This will be a limited edition of 999 units of the sports car featuring rear-wheel drive versus the four-wheel drive with which it is normally offered. This is said to save 50kg in coupé form and 40kg as a Spyder. It is being powered by a 540 hp, 5.2-litre V-10 engine.

Emphasising the focus on the driver, the chassis and control systems have been set up to allow controlled drifts in dynamic handing mode with the stability control system set to "Sport".

"The R8 V10 RWS is made for purists,” said Audi Sport CEO Stephan Winkelmann. “A limited-edition special model for customers with an appreciation for essential driving enjoyment. With its mid-mounted V10 engine and rear-wheel drive, it successfully brings the driving concept of our R8 LMS racing car to the streets."

Elsewhere in the premium sector, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was out in full force highlighting new models and variants as well as its ambitions for the future. Alongside the recently introduced Range Rover Velar, Land Rover is using the event to show off its limited edition Discovery SVX. This heavily modified vehicle has been developed by its Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) business, and will stand alongside the SVR and SV Autobiography variants as its extreme off-road branding.

Its features include raised suspension to improve its off-road capabilities, as well as long-travel dampers and revised knuckles, while a hydraulic active roll control (H-arc) system gives increased wheel articulation and improved body control. It has also installed larger diameter tyres.

The variant is powered by a supercharged 5.0-litre V-8 developing 525PS and 625Nm of torque, while the rotary transmission shifter has been replaced by a "pistol shifter" for the eight speed automatic to offer optimum control off-road. Other changes include unique front and rear bumpers with protective skid plates, metal recovery eyes, anti-glare bonnet finish and an integrated rear-mounted electric winch system. Land Rover also revealed that the Discovery would add the 300-hp Ingenium petrol engine to its line-up, which has CO2 emissions of 222g/km.

On the Jaguar side of the stage stood not only the new Jaguar E-Pace XF Sportbrake and XE SV Project 8, but another opportunity to see the I-Pace, Jaguar's forthcoming EV. Not only will this be for road use, but the car maker revealed that it will also be providing a modified eTrophy version to support a one-make series that will run in Formula E rounds from the end of 2018. Up to 20 will be offered on an arrive-and-drive basis. No details have been released regarding specifications or costs, but the vehicle has a large rear wing, diffuser and front splitter, as well as appearing to have a wider track and other body modification. The company has said the cars would be constructed by SVO.

On the electrification front, JLR reaffirmed its plan to offer electrified variants of all its models by 2020, and will offer the PHEV Range Rover Sport and Range Rover alongside the Jaguar I-Pace soon. Looking further ahead, it also mentioned its Future-Type concept that it had put forward as an idea of what could be expected for 2040, as it juggled autonomous, personal mobility and car-sharing with the idea that driving could still be something that some customers might want to do.

Renault is showing off its own vision of the future – this time 2030 – with the Symbioz concept. In line with the car maker's investment in the technology, it features an electric powertrain with two electric motors on the rear axle, and batteries housed beneath the floor. This offers greater interior space, supported by a retracting dashboard and pivoting front seats, which make it suited to level-five autonomy. Renault also envisages high levels of connectivity in this vehicle. This includes electricity being shared between the owner's house and car, with the potential to use the power stored in the car batteries temporarily for the lights, screens and home appliances during peak times and blackouts. Although the vehicle has been designed as a concept, Renault has said it plans to have a demonstration vehicle available later this year supported by its partners LG, Ubisoft, Devialet, Sanlef, TomTom and IAV.

The French car maker has also unveiled the RS variant of the latest Mégane. The high-performance vehicle features a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine developing 280hp and 390Nm of torque. This is transferred to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The vehicle dynamics are improved through the use of hydraulic compression bump stops as part of the suspension, a wider track and the use of 46 or 48.6cm wheels, as well as four-wheel steering. It also has a revised body kit with a wide air intake to support engine cooling and a rear lip spoiler to generate additional downforce. As with previous generations, there is also a Cup variant that installs a new torsion limited slip differential. There will also be a Trophy variant from the end of 2018, which develops 300hp.

Honda is unveiling the Urban EV Concept, which is expected to be introduced in Europe in some form by 2019. The design is reminiscent of some of the car maker's early passenger car models such as the first-generation Civic, and stands 100mm shorter than the Jazz on its brand new platform. The exterior also features a screen in the grille that can display messages. Entry is through rear-hinged doors to a front or rear bench seat. The dashboard has a wraparound screen that runs into the doors and can display a range of information, while the extended door screens display images of what is behind the vehicle.

The concept also previews the car maker's vision for connectivity with the Honda Automated Network Assistant; this acts as a personal concierge that looks after the owner depending on their emotions, based on past decisions. It also anticipates managing energy transfers between the grid, homes and EVs as part of a smart grid.


Outlook and implications

While these car makers are looking towards the future – most notably Daimler, Audi, Jaguar and Renault with their visions that go beyond a decade or more – with many of the vehicles they have on display, this also goes hand in hand with the day-to-day running of their businesses. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of powertrains.

These and many others are making big claims about what we can expect from electrification from the future. This comes at a huge cost, even for the most financially strong of these businesses. Indeed, recent reports suggest that Mercedes-Benz Cars may need to an enact a €4bn cost-cutting programme despite record profits, while Daimler has increased its research and development  budget by 65% since 2014 as part of its efforts to meet this and other technical objectives.

Furthermore, VW Group has announced that it will directly invest €20bn in industrialisation for e-mobility projects until 2030, including new vehicles based on two new platforms; upgrading plants and training the workforce; in charging infrastructure, in trading and sales and as well as in battery technology and production.

In the run-up to the event, there was little or no mention of diesel, which is no surprise given the recent backlash. Nevertheless, both BMW Group's CEO Harald Krüger and Daimler's Zetsche have stated that diesel will remain an important part of the powertrain mix in the years to come, as regulators in Europe continue to focus attention on CO2.

Furthermore, the chairman of VW Group's management board, Matthias Mueller, said before the event that the internal combustion engine would provide a bridgehead to these new technologies, stating: "For the time being, we will be offering the entire powertrain spectrum – from conventional to fully electric – to enable sustainable and affordable mass mobility. We are not being arbitrary. We are listening to the voice of reason."

The company also said that while its Euro 6 diesel engines were seeing "above average performances" in real world conditions, its next-generation petrol engine from 2019 onward was expected to bring further improvements in fuel consumption and emissions.

Also, it is interesting to note the push towards autonomous driving is taking place at a time when some brands are embracing the act of and the skill in controlling a vehicle. In some instances, it is one of the key factors that defines them. The rate at which the technology can reach the market at the upper levels will not only be down to meeting technical challenges, but also regulators approving its use, as Audi is already finding.

Once these hurdles are surpassed though, and when further in the future level five starts to become commonplace, it does raise the question as whether there will be the need for driver licensing and whether acquiring one will be something for the hobbyist rather than the masses.




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