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Global

Technology

#emobility

Plug-in Hybrid: Software as Driver for Efficiency

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Current volume production components plus improved software already make the next generation mobility come true with the PHEV.
Frank Thoma, August 18, 2021
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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.
There are large-scale floods, sudden droughts or persistent heat periods: Climate change is no longer a highly controversial topic of theoretical discussion – it is real. It is induced by the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by humans. Eating habits, agriculture, industry, energy production and transport are the drivers of the raising CO2 emissions. Only by massively counteracting in all these areas can the Paris Climate Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius be achieved.

In the case of transport, electromobility is considered to be the solution for the CO2 problem, provided that electricity is also generated sustainably and without the use of fossil fuels. Given the already visible climatic effects, it is necessary to reduce the CO2 emissions of vehicles quickly. Until a large proportion of the global vehicle fleet drives purely electrically and climate-neutrally, years will pass. With plug-in hybrid technology, however, a sophisticated drive concept is now in place to immediately minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

Controversial decision about the end of the combustion engine

Controversial decision about the end of the combustion engine

This practical solution has now suffered a setback. In mid-July 2021, the European Commission presented far-reaching plans for more climate protection as part of its "Fit for 55" legal package. The goal of "Fit for 55" is to save at least 55 percent of CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. One of the legal measures proposed by the European Commission is a ban on the sale of new cars with combustion engines from 2035 onwards. This also includes the combustion engines in PHEVs. However, according to state-of-the-art technology, cars with combustion engines can only be replaced on a large scale by purely electric cars. This is problematic, among other things, because the charging infrastructure is currently far from being powerful enough to charge the constantly growing electric vehicle fleet. However, the use of plug-in hybrids with an electric driving share that is as high as possible immediately reduces CO2 emissions significantly while simultaneously reducing the load on the charging infrastructure.

More electric range with the PHEV of the latest generation

More electric range with the PHEV of the latest generation

Already in 2019, ZF presented a new type of concept car that has been further developed to this day. State-of-the-art hardware and software have significantly increased the vehicle's energy efficiency. This concept vehicle's drive is based on ZF's 8-speed automatic transmission known for its efficiency, whose housing also contains a powerful electric motor. Thus, this PHEV turns into a fully-fledged electric vehicle on the medium distances of everyday life. With this PHEV, it is now possible to travel about 150 kilometers purely electrically with charging the battery only once – this range is sufficient for most drivers to travel the daily route to the workplace and back home without a combustion engine. The combustion engine is usually only used for long-distance journeys. Hence its name, EVplus. "Plug-in hybrids of the next generation are electric vehicles suitable for everyday use thanks to EVplus," says Stephan von Schuckmann, Member of the Board of Management and Head of the Electrified Powertrain Technology Division.
The new fourth-generation 8-speed hybrid transmission has an even more powerful electric motor than the current version.

Increase in efficiency thanks to digital assistants

Increase in efficiency thanks to digital assistants

In order for a PHEV such as the EVplus from ZF to play off its advantages, the driver must move it electrically as much as possible. ZF therefore developed two digital assistants and integrated them into the EVplus. They not only remind the driver to drive electrically as much as possible, they also ensure optimal interaction between the combustion engine and the electric motor in line with the situation. The names of the apps are "ZF eDriver Trainer" and "ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager." In general, software plays a major role in converting efficiency potentials in real operation into tangible advantages.

Using information for the optimal PHEV application

Using information for the optimal PHEV application

The "ZF eDriver Trainer" motivates the driver to regularly charge the plug-in hybrid vehicle and to use it primarily electrically. The function's core: full transparency over the driver's own driving and charging behavior. Thanks to comprehensive information on electric driving operation and individual recommendations when traveling, every PHEV driver can travel as efficiently and with the lowest possible CO2 emissions as possible. There is even an incentive system: "With forward-looking driving, the driver can gain so-called ZF Coins, which can be used for free charging or parking, for example," says Christoph Schill, ZF engineer in Advanced Engineering for Driveline Technology.
The number of zero emission zones is growing, especially in residential areas. If the PHEV is powered by the internal combustion engine, the ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager switches automatically to electric drive mode when entering the environmental zone.

Automatic switch to E-Mode

Automatic switch to E-Mode

The "ZF Zero Emission Zone Manager" software also makes an effective contribution to CO2 reduction. As a result, the EVplus automatically behaves like a pure electric vehicle in a zero-emission zone. If the vehicle is not driven electrically anyway, the app automatically switches from the combustion engine to the electric motor when entering the zone. In the zone, the driver can no longer change this setting. The system detects zero-emission zones via geofencing. By the way, not only the environmental zones on the way are shown in the navigation display, the drivers can even define own zones in which they only want to drive purely electrically. The intelligent energy management of the hybrid drive, in conjunction with the navigation system's route planning, ensures that there is always sufficient battery energy to drive through zero-emission zones.
For engineer Christoph Schill, the EVplus test vehicle is the perfect example for implementing ZF's motto "Next Generation Mobility. Now." at this year's International Motor Show, because: "All important components installed in the EVplus, such as driveline, power electronics or battery management, are already in volume production. So the technology is available now."
"All important components installed in the EVplus, such as driveline, power electronics or battery management, are already in volume production. So the technology is available now."
Christoph Schill, Advanced Engineering Drivetrain Technology
Here you can see a film of the EVplus with its two digital assistants in operation.

Popular hybrid technology

In the first quarter of 2021, hybrid electric vehicles accounted for 18.4 percent of total passenger car sales in the EU, which almost doubled their market share within one year. Plug-in hybrids accounted for an additional 8.2 percent of EU registrations.