Aston Martin Valhalla plug-in hybrid to shape future EVs

Aston Martin is using its upcoming Valhalla high-performance plug-in hybrid to develop a playbook for its future EVs.

Executives said that the 937-horsepower Valhalla supercar exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday showcases lessons in driver engagement, visual effects and sound that could surface in its first EV in 2025.

“If we get that performance hybrid recipe right, it’s something we could see elsewhere later on in the range,” said Alex Long, head of Product & Market Strategy for Aston Martin Lagonda.

The Valhalla’s engineers were especially concerned with retaining the brand’s racetrack-ready driving dynamics when developing the mid-engine two seater, he said. Electric vehicles can feel less engaging as the driver cedes control to the electrical systems and advanced driver assistance functions that govern them.

“EVs are more like daily drivers and less of a weekend thrill,” Long said.

Engineers strived to put the driver back in control of the Valhalla’s hybrid powertrain, which combines a twin-turbo V8 with two e-motors, by dialing in “a little bit of oversteer and lots of feedback from the front end” among other tweaks.

“One thing we’ve been very careful to do is with tuning the responses of the car back to the driver,” he said. “If you over assist the drive, then there’s a level of disengagement.”

Electric motors provide quicker acceleration, hybrids and EVs are heavier and tend to be less nimble than their gas-engine counterparts. The additional weight from the battery powertrain presented several challenges, including figuring out how to change direction quickly without overloading the brake system.

The Valhalla is also pioneering the exterior design for the brand’s electrified portfolio, said Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman. Its body displays both painted and carbon surfaces to create shadows that help make the car appear to be in motion when standing still.

“There has to be a great visual balance, so how do you break up the car, whether it’s the carbon or the body color, or paint it to give a vernacular to electrification? I think it has to have its own language.”

Sound, too, came in to play. Historically, engine noise has been crucial to the perception of a sports car’s performance. “It’s a big challenge with EVs because you lose a lot of the emotion with the sound quality, and you don’t have that step process of gearing up,” Long said.

The Valhalla is “a nearly silent operation” in EV mode, he added. “All of the noise will come from the V8, which is going to be loud.”

Evolito’s electric motors look set to take off in aerospace where YASA left off in automotive

Back in July, British “axial-flux” electric motor startup YASA was acquired by Mercedes-Benz for an undisclosed amount. YASA’s electric motors generated considerable EV industry interest because of their efficiency, high power density, small size and low weight.

Indeed, Rolls-Royce, best known in aviation for its jet engines, employed YASA engines in its all-electric airplane “Spirit of Innovation” which recently completed a 15-minute test flight.

But it’s emerged today that there was, to put it mildly, more to the deal than met the eye.

It turns out that a new company, Evolito, was spun out of YASA before its acquisition by Mercedes Benz, taking with it an electric motor it describes as ultra-high performance, low-weight, and most suitable for the aerospace industry.

The prospect now is that Evolito will pick up in the aerospace world where YASA left off in the automotive world. Evolito’s investors lead are Waypoint Capital and Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE).

The implication is that because YASA’s technology has proven itself in high volume production in the automotive industry, Evolito could have particular advantages in aerospace.

Evolito claims its motors are “ultra high-performance, low-weight axial-flux motors” and its power electronics are “smaller, lighter and more robust than any other competing technology” with wide potential applications in Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL), Fixed Wing and distributed electric propulsion applications such as Urban Air Mobility (UAM).

Gareth Morris, Managing Director, Evolito said: “Electrification in aerospace is some ten years behind that of the automotive industry, but the market potential is huge. Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing, Electric Helicopter, Fixed-Wing, and Urban Air Mobility aircraft need high power density, low weight electric powertrains with inherently high safety factors – a combination of attributes that are unique to our axial-flux electric motor and power electronics. By leveraging YASA’s unique IP in the aerospace market, Evolito will fast-track the commercialization of electric flight and transform mobility as we know it.”

Evolito Motor

Evolito Motor

Many of these claims appear to ring true. After personally visiting the YASA factory and having the advantages of the “topology” of its engine explained in great detail, I would be extremely hard-pressed to argue against the claims made for it. It’s this technology that Evolito is now taking forward into the aerospace industry, and it looks like it will be a very bright future indeed.

Cyrus Jilla, Partner and Board Director, Waypoint Capital said: “At Waypoint, one of our thematic interests is in energy transition and sustainability, including electrification. We look to invest in businesses with unique disruptive technology led by outstanding teams. Evolito is a perfect fit for us and we look forward to backing the team as they develop their game-changing electrification solutions for the aerospace market, making emissions-free flight a reality.”

Alexis Zervoglos, Senior Partner, OSE added: “The electrification of flight is one of the most exciting market opportunities of our time. Realizing this potential will require innovative new technology and an ability to scale to meet the fast-emerging demand. OSE is delighted to be supporting Evolito on its mission to accelerate the adoption of electric flight.”

The market for electric drive solutions for urban applications is forecast to grow to $90 billion and 160,000 vehicles by 2050, according to some industry experts.

(Just no-one tell them about Aviato, ok?)

Experts from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai will discuss automotive robotics at TC Sessions: Mobility

The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.

Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.

It’s a fascinating space – and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from those companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.

Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.

Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.

Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.

Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.


GM, LG Chem studying the feasibility of a second battery cell plant in the U.S.

General Motors is exploring building a second U.S. battery cell manufacturing plant with its joint-venture partner Seoul, South Korea-based LG Chem.

If the plant moves forward, it would be the latest in a series of investments aimed at building out the auto giant’s portfolio of electric vehicles. The company’s joint venture with LG, Ultium Cells LLC, is already at work constructing a $2.3 billion battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio.

The companies hope to have a decision on the factory in the first half of 2021, GM spokesman Dan Flores told TechCrunch. He declined to specify possible locations for the site but Tennessee is high on the list, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal.

GM has set ambitious targets for decarbonizing its operations and pledged steep investments to get there. Through 2025 alone the company said it would bring thirty EV models across its brands to the global market and spend $27 billion on electrification and automated technology—a 35% increase from 2020 spending. By the mid-2030s, GM said its fleet will be all-EV.

“Clearly, with our commitment to an all-electric future, we will need a lot of battery cells,” Flores said.

He declined to comment on the ongoing shortage of battery cells, which has affected EV manufacturers Tesla and Nikola. President Joe Biden issued an executive order at the end of February instructing federal agencies to identify risks in the supply chains for batteries, semiconductors, and other critical items, including where supply chains are dependent on “competitor nations.”

GM CEO Mary Barra said in a virtual investor presentation last week that the battery shortage is one reason the company is investing in its own battery cell manufacturing. She alluded to plans to grow the company’s battery cell manufacturing operations but did not go into specifics.

“There’s more coming than we’ve announced already,” she said.

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Air taxi startup Archer is partnering with automaker FCA on production of its electric aircraft

Archer, a company that’s looking to develop an airline of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for sue in urban transport, will work with automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in a new partnership to benefit from the latter’s expertise in engineering, design, supply chain and materials science. Archer aims to start production of its eVTOLs at scale beginning in 2023, with an initial unveiling to occur early this year.

The new team-up will see FCA provide input that contributes to the design of Archer’s eVTOL cockpit, as well, another area where the automaker has ample expertise, since it has designed spaces for drivers for many decades in its automotive business. Archer’s aircraft will be powered by an electric motor, and will be able to fly for up to 60 miles at top speeds of 150 mph. The Archer eVTOL is designed to be quiet and efficient, with efforts from the FCA collaboration going towards lowering the cost of its manufacturing to make high-volume manufacturing achievable and sustainable.

Ultimately, Archer is looking to FCA to help it realize efficiencies in its process that can make bringing its eVTOL to market a sound business that can also be accessed affordably by end users. Palo Alto-based Archer is looking to ultimately scale production to the point where it can produce “thousands” of its eVTOL aircraft per year, for use in future air taxi services serving cities globally.

Based in Palo Alto and led by co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, and including industry executives like Chief Engineer Goeff Bower, who previously served int hat role at Airbus’ Vahana eVTOL initiative, Archer launched out of stealth earlier this year with backing from Marc Lore, current President and CEO of Walmart’s ecommerce business (he was co-founder and CEO of Jet when it was acquired by the retailer).

Boom Supersonic enlists Rolls-Royce to help build the engines for world’s fastest commercial aircraft

Boom Supersonic, the Colorado -based startup working on creating a supersonic passenger jet to continue and dramatically advance the legacy of the original Concorde, has signed on Rolls-Royce to build the propulsion system for its Overture commercial aircraft. Boom is getting very close to actually beginning to fly its XB-1, a sub-scale demonstrator aircraft that will test and prove out many of the technologies that will be used to bring Overture to life.

This isn’t the first time Boom and Rolls-Royce have worked together: The two companies have had a number of different collaborations on aspects of their development process to date, Boom notes. Rolls-Royce has a history of developing engines for civil aircraft applications dating all the way back to the Second World War, and is the second-largest maker of aircraft engines in the world.

Boom’s relative newcomer status should benefit greatly from the long tradition Rolls-Royce has in creating aircraft propulsion systems – and it doesn’t hurt that Rolls-Royce had a hand in creating the Olympus 593 turbojet that powered the original Concorde.

The Overture aims to be the world’s fastest passenger aircraft, with flights taking half the time they do on conventional commercial jets (New York to London in just three-and-a-half hours, for instance). The company aims to provide essentially dedicated business class service to a frequent business traveler clientele, and to do so sometime in the next five to 10 years.

The XB-1 demonstrator jet has a set reveal date of October 7 this year, which is the first time we’ll get a first-hand look at a fully functional aircraft that Boom really intends to fly.

Reaction Engines’ Mach 5 engine is just the tip of the new aerospace boom

Imagine a hypersonic passenger aircraft that would cut the journey time between London and New York to around two hours. At Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, the aircraft would complete a trip across the Atlantic in around 120 minutes. Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and over 50% faster than the SR-71 Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft. A flight across the Pacific would take roughly three hours. Flight times from London to Sydney could be 80% shorter. Who needs Elon Musk?

Reaching these speeds would require an aircraft engine that has never previously existed. But last week, the world got a glimpse of a new future via a project which has been germinating for 30 years.

Reaction Engines was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls Royce: Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott Scott. Their idea was that in order for an engine to reach hypersonic speeds, the air going into it would have to be rapidly cooled, otherwise the engine would melt. Reaction’s breakthrough was inventing a “precooler” or heat exchanger which can take the air down to minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.

These ultra-lightweight “heat exchangers” would enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. Thus the SABRE – Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine – was born. The Sabre engine “breathes” air to make 20 per cent of the journey to orbit, before switching to rocket mode to complete the trip.

Last week, Reaction Engines passed a significant milestone. It successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5.

The ground-based test at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US, saw the precooler successfully operate at temperatures of 420ᵒC (~788ᵒF) – matching the thermal conditions corresponding to Mach 3.3 flight.

Reaction Engines

But this technology wouldn’t just be applicable to hypersonic flight. The precooler technology, developed by Reaction Engines, would significantly enhance the performance of existing jet engine technology, along with applications in automotive, aerospace, energy and industrial processes. Reaction Engines has attracted development funding from the British government, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the European Space Agency. It’s also raised over £100m from public and private sources and has secured investment from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing’s venture capital arm HorizonX. Reaction is expected to start building and testing a demonstrator engine next year.

The success of Reaction Engines to date is a sign that the ‘AerospaceTech’ sector is now booming. It is most certainly not alone.

Last month, Boeing and the UK government launched a £2m accelerator program to look for new innovations in this area. Boeing’s HorizonX is backing the initiative.

Ford’s electric Mustang-inspired SUV will finally get its debut

Ford provided its first peek of a Mustang-inspired electric crossover nearly 14 months months. Now, it’s ready to show the world what “Mustang-inspired” means.

The automaker said Thursday it will debut the electric SUV on November 17 ahead of the LA Auto Show.

Not much is known about the electric SUV that is coming to market in 2020, despite dropping the occasional teaser image or hint. A new webpage launched recently, which provides few details, namely that Ford is targeting an EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles. The look, specs and price will have to wait until at least the November 17 debut date.

What we do know is that Ford’s future (and certainly its CEO’s) is tied to the success of this shift to electrification. The Mustang-inspired SUV might not be the cornerstone to this strategy (an electric F150 probably deserves that designation), but it will be a critical piece.

Ford has historically backed hybrid technology. Back in 2016, Ford Chairman Bill Ford said at a Fortune event that he viewed plug-in hybrids as a transitional technology.

A lot has changed. Hybrids are still part of the mix. But in the past 18 months, Ford has put more emphasis on the development and production of all-electric vehicles.

In 2018, the company said it will invest $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022.

Ford unveiled in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show a range of hybrid vehicles  as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

It also invested in electric vehicle startup Rivian and locked in a deal with Volkswagen that covers a number of areas, including autonomy (via an investment by VW in Argo AI) and collaboration on development of electric vehicles. Ford will use Volkswagen’s MEB platform to develop “at least one” fully electric car for the European market that’s designed to be produced and sold at scale.


Ford is making a hybrid Explorer SUV

Ford is adding a hybrid Explorer to the mix, the first time the popular SUV has been offered with any kind of electrification.

The automaker unveiled Monday the Explorer hybrid, as well as a new Explorer ST, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The reveal followed the debut last week of the 2020 Explorer, a re-crafted model that has a new platform and is loaded with technology. The final assembly for the entire Explorer lineup will be at the Ford Chicago Assembly plant. The Explorer hybrid will be manufactured at the Lima engine plant in Ohio.

The new Explorer hybrid, which will hit dealerships in summer, features a 3.3-liter hybrid powertrain that Ford projects will produce 318 horsepower combined. The company said it’s targeting a range of more than 500 miles between gas station fill-ups in the rear-wheel-drive model.Ford Explorer Hybrid closeup

The hybrid SUV has a new 10-speed modular hybrid transmission and liquid-cooled, lithium-ion battery built into the Explorer chassis below the second-row seats. This new configuration preserves cargo and passenger space, unlike previous hybrid vehicles, Ford said.

“Lost cargo space in hybrids is a thing of the past for Ford customers,” said Bill Gubing, Explorer chief engineer.

Ford’s unveiling follows a strategic roadmap developed last year that will place an emphasis on SUVs and hybrids. Or hybrid SUVs.

Ford estimated in March that SUVs could represent half of the U.S. retail market by 2020. The company said at the time that it planned to bring high-performance SUVs to the market, including five with hybrid powertrains and one fully battery electric model.

Zunum Aero bets on hybrid electric engines for its small commuter jet

The traditional aviation industry typically moves rather slowly, but over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of upstarts that are challenging the status quo both in the general and commercial aviation business. One of those is Zunum Aero, which is looking to produce a small hybrid electric-powered commuter plane for six to 12 passengers, with plans to launch its first plane, the ZA10, in the early 2020s.

As Zunum today announced, it has chosen Safran’s twin-spool Ardiden 3Z light helicopter engine as the powerplant for its first planes. While you have probably never heard of Safran, the company is one of the biggest suppliers of engines for turbine helicopters, and chances are that if you see one in the air, it’s probably powered by a Safran engine.

“The Ardiden 3Z represents a very powerful complement to the ZA10 because of its exceptional performance, along with low operating and maintenance costs,” said Safran’s head of OEM sales Florent Chauvancy. “This announcement marks a new step forward in demonstrating Safran’s ability to offer hybrid propulsive solutions for tomorrow’s mobility solutions.”

As Zunum chief engineer Matt Knapp told me, the company always believes that hybrid engines were the way to go — at least for the foreseeable future. The planes, however, can be converted to a pure electric powertrain if and when batteries reach enough energy density to make this an option. Right now, the only way to offer a plane that can cover the kind of distance between say San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, is to opt for this hybrid solution. Planes that solely rely on battery power simply aren’t a viable option for this kind of mission. Knapp believes that battery power alone would get the plane to about 500 miles, which isn’t bad, but less than most airlines would require.

The promise is that the hybrid powertrain will still reduce emissions by 80 percent and that airlines can save 40 to 80 percent per short-haul flight. Indeed, the company promises costs of 8 cents per passenger mile. Currently, the average for most of the major U.S. airlines is significantly more than that, even with their long-haul operations in the mix. For regional carriers, it’s even higher than that.

The new propulsion system will offer a peak performance of the equivalent of 1,300 horsepower, which should get the plane to a cruise speed of 340 miles per hour. During cruise, which uses far less power than the initial climb, the plane can go all-electric.

As for the airframe itself, Knapp notes there really isn’t anything all that special about it. “It’s more or less designed for high utilization in a commercial setting,” he said.

Knapp also noted that the plane can be flown by a single pilot, though the FAA would limit those operations to flights with nine seats or fewer. In the long run, though, Knapp actually expects that many new planes will be flying autonomously.

Until then, though, Zunum still has to prove it can build an airplane. For now, the company plans to use the hybrid powertrain on a test aircraft that it recently purchased (an old Aero Commander, for you avgeeks) while it starts working on its airframe.