BorgWarner Puts New Spin on Turbochargers

November 22, 2016 by Paul A. Eisenstein, @DetroitBureau

Car and truck manufacturers are increasingly turning to turbochargers as they seek to increase fuel efficiency without sacrificing power.

But it’s not a free ride. The power-boasting systems have drawbacks, most notably the dreaded turbo lag — that pause between when a driver depresses the gas pedal and the engine spits out the power.

Automotive parts giant BorgWarner demonstrated several ways to reduce turbo lag at a recent technology preview at its suburban Detroit headquarters. It hopes to have the applications on vehicles within several years.

An electric turbocharging system, one of the BorgWarner technologies, could represent a significant improvement for heavy-duty trucks — especially reefer rigs that draw plenty of electrical power.

Turbo lag is the result of a delay in building up the exhaust gas pressure normally used to power a turbocharger. The eTurbo will deliver a nearly instantaneous boost because it will initially use an electric motor to spool up, or spin, its turbine, Chris Thomas, BorgWarner’s chief technology officer, told Trucks.com during an interview at the company’s Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters.

The system will also provide another benefit. Instead of using a wastegate to blow off turbo pressure, once exhaust gas pressure reaches an optimum level, the eTurbo motor will act as a generator, providing electric current that reduces demand on a truck’s conventional alternator.

But the system is still a “couple of years” away from production, Thomas said.

BorgWarner also is working on a less complex version of the eTurbo that it calls eBoost. It hooks up to a vehicle’s intake manifold and can spin from 0 to 70,000 rpm in 250 milliseconds, ramming air into the engine even as the conventional turbo just starts to spool up.

Building super chargers at a BorgWarner facility in Itatiba, Brazil.

BorgWarner facility in Itatiba, Brazil. (Photo: BorgWarner)

BorgWarner demonstrated eBoost’s capabilities with a modified version of the Ford Mustang using a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. At low rpm, the four-cylinder powertrain suffers from notable lag. But with eBoost, the delay is almost unnoticeable. When used on the Mustang, Thomas said, it provides V-8 engine power but even better mileage than the stock Ford EcoBoost V-6 engine. It could be put to similar use on a large turbo truck engine, as well.

One of the industry’s oldest suppliers — and one with a strong history in the performance market — BorgWarner is making some significant changes in its strategy and product portfolio. This reflects dramatics shifts in both the light and heavy-duty vehicle markets.

While products like eTurbo and eBoost will be targeted at conventional gasoline and diesel engines, the company is seeking to carve out a leading role in what could be a boom market for alternative powertrains. In fact, BorgWarner has banned “powertrain” from the company vocabulary.

The company, said Chief Executive James Verrier, “is moving from a powertrain to a propulsion systems company.”

That reflects four key trends in the motor vehicle industry, Verrier said:

  • The coming era of autonomous driving;
  • The emergence of ride and vehicle sharing;
  • The increased use of connected technologies for everything from infotainment to safety systems; and
  • The shift to high-efficiency drive systems, notably including electric propulsion.

It is the push for electrification that will likely lead to some of the most significant changes at the company, Verrier said. This year, hybrids, plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles will account for barely 3.5 million of the 91 million vehicles sold worldwide. But, according to IHS Markit forecasts, worldwide sales for alternative-fuel vehicles are expected to reach a minimum 20.3 million of the 107 million vehicles that will be sold in 2023, he said.

BorgWarner expects to achieve a 54 percent compounded annual growth rate in the hybrid automotive components market over the next seven years.

That reflects the supplier’s rapid expansion of its battery propulsion parts catalog — something that has been speeded up through acquisitions that included the old General Motors electric motor unit Remy.

Later this month, BorgWarner expects to reveal the first customer for a new integrated drivetrain that will include both a Remy motor and the electric gearbox originally developed for use on the Tesla Roadster, the start-up automaker’s first vehicle.

Verrier and Thomas believe that electrification will take root even if, as some are now speculating, President-elect Donald Trump moves to kill off the 54.5 mpg fuel-economy standard now set to take effect in 2025, as well as the $7,500 federal income tax credit on battery electric cars.

While that could cause a stumble for electrification in the U.S., “We think the absolute market share for EVs will go up” on a global basis. In fact, said Verrier, current sales forecasts may underestimate the potential for battery power.

And that applies to both light vehicles and medium- to heavy-duty trucks, Thomas told Trucks.com.

BorgWarner facility in Itatiba, Brazil.

BorgWarner facility in Itatiba, Brazil.

Electric driving range still remains an issue that truck manufacturers must confront, he said.

“Unless that is addressed,” Thomas said, the truck side of the industry will largely focus on hybrid rather than full electric drive systems.

The bottom line for BorgWarner, said Verrier, is that the changes reshaping the auto industry will provide new opportunities. “All the vehicles coming to market will need propulsion systems. And that is our mission.”

Related: Study Shows Benefits to Heavy-Duty Truck Electrification

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