Continental is approaching the forthcoming changes in vehicle drive technologies with vigor and confidence. The technology company is relying here on the growing demand for highly efficient and low-emission technologies for combustion engines as well as electrified and fully electric drive systems.
One of the company’s strengths and core competencies is its electronics expertise. “When it comes to electric vehicles, the focus is mainly on the electric motor and battery. However, there is another vitally important key component, namely the power electronics – a mini computer that manages the interaction between motor and battery or, in other words, the “brain” of the electric drive system. Its own central component is the power module, which enables currents of up to 650 amps. For years now, the drive business of technology company Continental has been offering this technology for various types of electric automobiles – from plug-in hybrid models to electric cars featuring highly integrated axle drives, right through to high-performance electric vehicles.
“Over decades, Continental has built up electronic expertise into one of the company’s core competencies. This is now bearing fruit, because the overwhelming majority of mobility innovations are based on electronic components, which today already account for around 70 percent of our current incoming orders. Continental’s systems expertise is therefore an invaluable advantage,” said Andreas Wolf, CEO of Continental’s powertrain business.
The new, third generation of power electronics from Continental is, for example, used in an electric SUV of a European manufacturer in a configuration that processes these high currents, providing outstanding driving performance. “The new power electronics module from Continental was the first on the market for a series-production electric automobile in this performance class and featuring this innovative technology,” said Thomas Stierle, who heads the Hybrid Electric Vehicle business unit at Powertrain. The new power module takes the fun of driving to the next level, combining efficient, environmentally friendly electric mobility with maximum emotion.
High systems expertise, continuous optimization and the latest Technology
The new power electronics can be used in a broad range of electric vehicles. This much is made clear by the considerable systems expertise that Continental has built up in this area of electric drive systems. Since the first generation, which hit the roads in various electric production vehicles in 2011, performance, size and weight have been optimized from generation to generation. The current, third generation, for example, delivers six times the performance of the first, while its weight has been reduced from what used to be 12 kilograms to just 8 kilograms now.
The technological highlight of the power electronics is the special production process behind the required microchips. With these, the conventional, soldered wire connections are replaced by sintering technology. In simple terms, the contacts are compounded. The advantage of this is that the microchips sintered on both sides in the power module offer major gains in terms of service life, reliability and thermal capacity. The Powertrain division is using this technology for the first time in automotive electronics.
The robustness that it provides is vital, because the power module has to make the full current available in a split second. This component also governs whether it is possible to exploit the full potential of the electric drive. The new electronics module not only supplies current to the electric motor, but also controls energy recovery (recuperation). Smart management of this interaction is the key feature of an efficient electric drive system – and therefore of electric mobility.
Series technology from Continental is even used in racing
In addition to development and production expertise in power electronics hardware, Continental has the necessary software knowledge to adapt the component as required. For instance, the system was tailored for ultimate sports performance and maximum dynamics for the electric SUV. If the driver does not demand all the available performance, the control software will provide a particularly calm and peaceful travel experience – after all, the high-performance SUV also belongs to the class of luxury family vehicles.
One demonstration of the exceptional performance of the power module is as well the fact that this component was completely unchanged for use in a race version of the car, which starts in a first international racing series for series-production cars. While it is normally said that technology is transferred from race cars to production vehicles, this time it is the other way around, with high-performance series technology used in racing.
Innovative power electronics ensure a better driving experience and fewer emissions
For Continental, this is a crucial message, as the components of the electric drive system and performance electronics in particular have now reached a sufficient stage of development for a similarly broad range of applications to those of the components of conventional power transmission technology. Whether the focus is on comfort or the driving experience, these demands can be met in a far more environmentally friendly way than before thanks to the advancement of electric mobility. Regardless of the specific design of the electric powertrain, which is defined by the performance electronics, driving will be associated with far fewer emissions in the future – without compromise on making driving fun.