What do BMW, Mitsubishi and Porsche electric cars have in common?

GKN might be the most important automotive supplier that you’ve never heard of.

The company has just completed production of its 300,000th electric axle, or “eAxle”. GKN produces its eAxle at factories in Italy and Japan for cars that employ hybrid electric all-wheel drive systems.

The company has been producing and developing eAxle technology since 2002. Current vehicles that employ it include the Volvo XC90 and S90, Mitsubishi Outlander, BMW 2-series Active Tourer, BMW i8 and Porsche 918 Spyder. Carmakers typically use GKN eAxles on the rear axle of front-wheel drive platforms to create hybrid eAWD models.

High-precision manufacturing and efficient assembly processes at GKN Driveline’s eDrive production facilities in Bruneck, Italy and Tochigi, Japan have helped make the latest GKN systems suitable for a range of vehicle segments, from premium SUVs to high-end sports cars.

In March 2016, GKN announced the development of its latest generation of eAxle, which transfers technology developed for hybrid performance cars, into mass-market vehicle platforms. This technology is being used on the BMW 225xe Active Tourer, which has just gone on sale in New Zealand at $68,500. It combines a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine driving the front wheels with an eAxle and electric motor driving the rear.

The new eAxle is an evolution of the system GKN designed for the Porsche 918 Spyder.

The single-speed design minimises weight to just 20.9kg while optimising efficiency, installation space and costs for mass-market vehicle applications. A two-staged geartrain with a gear ratio of 12.5 provides up to 2000Nm torque and 65kW power in pure-electric mode and balanced wheel torques for all-wheel drive mode. An electromechanically actuated dog clutch disconnects the electric motor at higher vehicle speeds and an open coupling minimises rotating losses when disengaged. Precision engineering of the gear teeth and other acoustic measures are aimed at minimising noise.

The company says a typical C-segment plug-in hybrid can now have an engine output of around 100kW, with a GKN eAxle supplying an additional 65kW of electrical power. The eAxle can improve 0-100kmh acceleration times by several seconds, provide a useable pure electric range and reduce a vehicle’s CO2 emission rating to less than 50g/km.

The company was awarded Official Porsche Technology Partner status for its contribution to the plug-in hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder programme. It launched the world’s first two-speed eAxle in the plug-in hybrid BMW i8 and also supplies the eAxle on the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine.

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