Sunday, February 23, 2020

The future of aftermarket performance

I have been modifying cars since I was a teenager.  My first was a 1972 Ford Bronco where I rebuilt a 351W engine, upgrading the camshaft, installing a larger carburetor, and headers, to replace the 302.  I installed nitrous oxide on my 1968 Mustang, along with many other mods.  I helped a friend develop a custom turbo system for his Fox mustang.  I installed many superchargers at the Ford Dealer I worked at for 15 years.  I also was a dealer/installer for Allen Engine Development and Explorer Express superchargers.  I developed a low budget custom turbo system for my BMW 318i.  I have also done engine performance tuning on many cars.  I have worked with most types performance enhancements over the years.  I know the pros and cons of the various aftermarket power adders.

I am becoming more and more convinced that the future is in aftermarket hybrid systems.  I am not talking about plug-in hybrid focused at fuel economy here.  I am talking about performance focused hybrid performance enhancements.  Think F1 KERS for the street or track.  This is by no means a new concept.  Think back to the Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari, and McLaren P1.  All three were hybrids.  In the supercar space, more hybrids are coming too.  There is even a company, Vonnen, that has developed the first aftermarket hybrid system for Porsche sports cars now.  While that system has a huge price tag, I expect this approach to eventually go mainstream and the prices to come down quickly.

There are many opportunities once you have a high-voltage electric system in the car.  The Vonnen system eliminates the old heavy starter motor, and replaces the heavy lead-acid 12V battery to reduce the weight penalty down to about 100lbs.  While the Vonnen system puts the motor/generator between the engine and transmission, the motor/generator could instead (or also) be placed at each of the axles which would allow for torque vectoring.  You can also electric drive superchargers to boost the engine performance as well with no back work of traditional supercharging or turbocharging (more net power with less boost).  Unlike superchargers or turbochargers, hybrid drive will not affect the engine durability, tuning, emissions, or sound either.  Performance focused hybrid systems do not require a large heavy battery pack.  Instead, the Vonnen system uses a 1kWh battery pack (versus the 100kWh battery pack of a Tesla Model S 100). Ultra-capacitors can also be used to augment these performance oriented hybrid systems with a low weight penalty and very high power rates in and out.  The battery and/or capacitor weight can be strategically placed in the vehicle too, optimizing balance and handling. Other features can be added such as silent drive for short distances (depending on battery capacity) so you don't wake everyone up in your neighborhood when you start your performance car.  Large capacity electric heaters can augment the HVAC in cold climates to give instant heat before the engine warms up, also making the defrost work better.  Speaking of HVAC, the belt driven AC compressor can be replaced with an electric compressor and be more strategically placed in the vehicle. Hydraulic power steering can be replace with efficient electric power steering, which can include advanced features such as Porsche's advanced electric power steering.

Motors are getting better all the time too.  Equipmake for instance, recently developed a 295HP motor that weights only 22lbs. With all kinds of advanced motor technology, higher voltages, and advanced manufacturing techniques, motors will continue to become lighter, more powerful, and once they show up in volumes, less costly.  Leveraging this development from mainstream manufacturers, the aftermarket can adapt these motors to the aftermarket performance sector to make a cost effective performance enhancement system. Most of these modern motors can also generate electricity to charge the propulsion batteries and/or capacitors.

Motors can be placed in many different areas to provide power where desired and to enable enhanced stability and traction control strategies such as torque vectoring, stop/start, anti-stall, and more.  A motor that drives the engine crank can also be used to stabilize very high performance engines with large aggressive cams to make the car more drive-able.  A great example of that is the Aston Martin Valkyrie.  Hybrid assist is used to make this 1000HP naturally aspirated engine street drive-able.  Motors that are connected to the engine can also assist in changing engine speeds, making the engine rev much quicker.  Motors used in generating mode can be used as retarders for descending hills and decelerating, saving brake heat and wear.

Looking at trucks and off-road vehicles the advantages grow even more.  Drive motors can be placed to drive each wheel independently (or assist) to allow precise torque control for rock climbing and advanced traction control.  High-voltage electric winches will be far more compact, light, and powerful than their 12V counterparts. Trailers can also be equipped with drive motors so an off-road vehicle can tow a trailer and still have all wheels driven to get through very poor traction conditions.

One of the challenges facing aftermarket performance systems and kits is dealing with the implications to emissions and associated regulations.  Hybrid systems would be far easier to deal with here as most would not impact emissions, or would favorably impact emissions, especially in grams/mile impact.  The Vonnen system for instance does not change any engine or powertrain tuning. 

Hybrid and battery electric vehicles have now been around in volumes for over a decade.  More vehicles will go hybrid and full battery electric going forward.  As hybrid and electric drive go mainstream, the cost of this technology will drop substantially.  In some cases, the factory components could be incorporated into aftermarket hybrid systems which will really help reduce cost while also using proven, validated components.  Hybrid drive is not the doom of performance cars but rather the next level.  The future of performance vehicles and aftermarket performance enhancements has never been brighter.