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Plug-in Hybrid: Electric Drive in the Fast Lane

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With the "EVplus" concept car and the digital assistants integrated into it, ZF shows how passenger cars with plug-in hybrid drive immediately and permanently reduce CO2 emissions.
Frank Thoma, November 02, 2020
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Frank Thoma has been corporate editor at ZF since 2011. With a degree in journalism, he has been planning, writing and editing articles for all of the company’s internal, external media.
Endless possibility lives in the world that exists between imagination and reality. At ZF, the leadership team and all employees have the vision of accident-free and emission-free mobility. To ensure that this does not remain wishful thinking, these two goals are precisely defined in the corporate strategy and are the driving force behind everything we do. In reality, autonomous driving, and the accident-free vision of the future, will still take some time to reach fruition. The situation is different for local emission-free driving. Even today, the CO2 emissions of vehicles can be drastically reduced through electrification - an important interim goal.

Extended electric range with the second-generation PHEV

Extended electric range with the second-generation PHEV
The plug-in hybrid drive, a mixture of internal combustion engine and electric motor, is critical transitional technology for the age of pure electric mobility. However, its advantages can only be celebrated if the electric motor can cover a significant distance. This was precisely one of the main criticisms of the first generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV): the insufficient electric reach.
During the IAA in 2019, ZF presented a new type of concept car. For the first time, it is possible for a PHEV to cover more than 100 kilometers electrically with one battery charge; enough range for most drivers to make the daily trip to work and back home without using the combustion engine. Its name is EVplus. "Thanks to EVplus, next-generation plug-in hybrids are electric vehicles suitable for everyday use," says Stephan von Schuckmann, Head of ZF's Car Powertrain Technology Division.
The new fourth-generation 8-speed hybrid transmission has an even more powerful electric motor than the current version.

Criticism of the PHEV: human, not technical causes

Criticism of the PHEV: human, not technical causes
At the end of September 2020, a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, together with the non-profit research organization International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), caused a stir. The authors had examined the everyday use of 100,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles in Europe, North America and China. The results were not very flattering: "On average, the real-world fuel consumption and CO2 emission values of plug-in hybrid vehicles for private drivers in Germany are more than twice as high as indicated by the official test procedure. For company cars, the deviation is even four times the official values," summarizes Coordinator of the Business Unit Energy Economy at Fraunhofer ISI and lead author of the study.
This means that the deviation between official data and real empirical values for plug-in hybrid vehicles is much greater than for vehicles with conventional combustion engines. The researchers found that plug-in hybrid vehicles are charged too rarely. This reduces the electric reach and increases the fuel consumption and the CO2 emissions in everyday operation.
An unnecessarily high fuel consumption, and the associated excessive CO2 emissions, are therefore not due to technical reasons, but to human factors. The developers at ZF were aware of this problem and developed two digital assistants to help counteract it. Installed in their EVplus concept car, ZF presented the "ZF eDriver Trainer" and the "ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager" to the public in mid-September.

Optimal use of PHEVs by information

Optimal use of PHEVs by information
The ZF eDriver Trainer motivates the human driver to regularly charge their plug-in hybrid vehicle and to use it primarily as an electric vehicle. The core of the function is full transparency regarding the driver's own driving and charging behavior. Thanks to the comprehensive information on all aspects of electric driving and individual recommendations, every PHEV user can drive with as little CO2 emission as possible. To positively influence driving behavior, the ZF eDriver Trainer can also be linked to a bonus program. In this way, particularly efficient drivers with a high degree of electric and efficient driving in hybrid mode receive bonus points which they could convert into free charging or parking, for example.
Only through regular charging every plug-in hybrid car does contribute to CO2 reduction
The ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager also makes an effective contribution to CO2 reduction. A vehicle equipped with this technology will automatically switch to electric driving mode when it enters a zero-emission zone or an urban low emission zone. The system recognizes these zones via geofencing. In this process, a virtually delimited area is recorded via GPS. The driver is shown the environmental zones on his route in the navigation display. As soon as he enters these zones, he is informed by an acoustic and optical signal that the vehicle will only be driving in electric mode within the zone.
The intelligent energy management of the hybrid drive, in conjunction with the navigation system's route planning, ensures that there is enough battery power to drive through the zero-emission zones. In addition, every PHEV user can also create individual zero-emission zones with the ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager. This could be, for example, the owner’s daily commuting route or hometown, which are then also automatically driven through electrically.
"With our digital assistants, we support PHEV drivers in driving electrically as much as possible. Via geofencing, we can ensure that plug-in hybrids are electrically powered in the city and especially in zero-emission areas," summarizes ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider. It is innovations like these that will make the vision of zero-emission mobility gradually become reality.

Plug-in hybrid on the advance throughout Europe

Despite a slight decline in Q2 2020 (-7.2%), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) remained the bestselling alternatively powered vehicle type in the European Union, with 172,149 units registered in total and representing 9.6% of the EU car market.
Source: European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA)