Over the last decade, the rise of the humble lithium ion battery has catapulted electric vehicles into the consciousness of the global automotive world. One area electric vehicles and combustion vehicles alike struggle with is cold weather. Extreme cold pushes all aspects of an electric car to the limits and in different ways than their fossil-fueled ancestors, giving some consumers pause when it comes time to “go electric”.
Knowing this and having experienced the significant impact cold weather can have on electric vehicle performance myself, I was eager to get a real deep dive into the tech and how it’s being optimized for winter performance. When Tier 1 automotive supplier Magna reached out to me to see if I was interested in coming up to the far north to spend some time with a few of their prototypes showcasing their latest suite of electric vehicle components, I jumped at the opportunity. We don’t get any real winter weather in Southern California, so I naturally shoved every jacket I own into a suitcase and hit the road.
Disclaimer: Magna paid for travel and accommodations for the author to attend this event.
I quickly found myself wandering the upper peninsula of Michigan at the Continental’s 540-acre Brimley Development Center in the middle of winter realizing how out of my depth I was. I speak electric vehicles, I know batteries and chargers, but I know next to nothing about driving in the snow.
Magna shared how they are building up a wide range of electric vehicle components to help automotive manufacturers go electric and integrate electric vehicles into new and existing vehicles. Magna has been designing, building, and supplying automotive components to the industry for decades. At its factory in Graz, Austria, Magna even has the capability to build vehicles from the ground up and has been doing so for years for automotive titans like Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, VW, and more.
This history is important as Magna truly understands what the traditional automotive industry needs from a supplier. Flexibility is a key component of that and with the ability to design, build, and reliably supply everything from transmissions to entire vehicles, Magna has proven its worth over and over as the ally that established carmakers can lean on as they push to go electric by 2030 or 2035.
The automotive industry is a complex behemoth and Magna has built up such a broad competency over its decades in existence that it is able to quickly and accurately provide what are essentially plug and play components for manufacturers. In the 21st century, Magna is adapting and pivoting towards electric vehicles with a full 70 percent of their engineering might being applied to “electrified” vehicle tech.
As you might expect, the solutions span the breadth of the space, from traditional hybrids to mild hybrids, plug in hybrids, and more recently, fully electric vehicles. With so many traditional manufacturers unclear on plans to electrify their fleets, Magna has surfaced as a partner these OEMs can approach to make it easy to convert an existing platform to a plug in hybrid or even to add a second motor to the front of a fully electric vehicle to provide all wheel drive functionality.
This is exactly what Magna did for VW when the brand was looking to install an additional motor in front of their rear wheel drive VW ID.4 to give it all wheel drive functionality. Magna mounted up and was able to integrate a brand new 3-in-1 solution built around an 80kW motor. The compact unit wraps a gearbox and inverter with the motor, making the upgrade to all wheel drive as simple as a plug and play installation on the hardware side.
From there, VW worked with Magna to tune the motor, giving it the driving characteristics they wanted in the vehicle. We took an AWD VW ID.4 out onto the track and it was extremely impressive to see just how well the family car performed on the snow and ice. We took it up a steep 20% grade and slowly creeped up the incline over a patch of ice and it was impressive to see just how quickly the ID.4 was able to push power away from the front wheels as they lost traction. Farther along, the poles flipped as the car pushed power to the front axle as the rear tires lost traction on the ice patch.
This type of rapid development and integration work is at the core of Magna’s business, with the brand making contributions to some of the most exciting fully electric vehicles including the Ford F-150 Lightning, Rivian R1S, BMW iX, and the Volkswagen ID Buzz to name a few.
The star of the show at the test facility was Magna’s showcase heavy duty truck that was built to showcase Magna’s Etelligence Force electric powertrain solutions. The team that built the prototype shared how they put a ton of work into ensuring an easy transition to electric solutions, with Magna’s solutions utilizing all factory suspension and mount points on the combustion vehicle. They literally pulled out the combustion engine, transmission, driveshaft, and rear and and started bolting in Magna’s components.
That starts with Magna’s eDS eBeam 3-in-1 rear axle. It surprisingly doesn’t look too far off from a standard rear end at a glance, but sports an integrated 250 watt / 330 horsepower motor, gearbox, and inverter. Think about it. After pulling out the massive engine and transmission from under the hood of this massive GMC 2500 truck, Magna started off the upgrade to fully electric with an axle that cranks out 250 kW peak power and a mind numbing 10,000 Nm axle torque.
In this case, the inverter connects to the axle via an electric umbilical cord. In other applications, it is available as a fully integrated unit. Similarly, the power output can be selected, with options ranging from 120 kW up to 250 kW.
Up front, Magna dropped in a eDS Mid+ 3-in-1 system, boosting the total system power for our battery electric prototype GMC 2500 HD to a combined 408 kW / 547 horsepower. They paired the prototype build with a custom battery pack with around 83 kWh of usable capacity. The vehicle was built as a technology demonstrator, so this pack size was optimized to meet testing requirements, demonstrate the capabilities of Magna’s solutions, and provide sufficient power output rather than to deliver a consumer-usable range figure.
We took the truck out onto the snow and it was mind numbingly powerful. To benchmark, we drove the combustion equivalent just beforehand and the contrast was stark. Magna’s build boasted far more torque, making it stupid easy to break traction without a thought. I had the pleasure of riding with Kyle Conner from Out Of Spec and let’s just say that he’s no slouch when it comes to driving in the snow at high speed in just about anything with wheels. Check out his video below for his take on Magna’s creation.
What impressed me about the vehicle was how much work Magna had put into making the transition to electric powertrain options easy. They literally bolt right in, at least on the mechanical side. There is a significant amount of software and controls work that goes into making sure they new components perform like a GMC, Chevy, Jaguar, or Rivian truck should.
That’s the beauty of electric powertrains. Manufacturers are able to spec out components that give them what is almost a blank sheet of paper. From these foundational pieces of hardware, they can tweak and tune the software to give their vehicles the driving characteristics they are looking for. They can be tuned for performance, towing, or to maximize efficiency for your daily commute. All with a few bits of code. Of course, not everything is possible with software, but you get what I’m saying.
Magna has already built an impressive suite of components for the “electrified” vehicle space and is aggressively investing in the space for the future. They are building complete electric vehicles like the Jaguar I-Pace at their factory in Graz, Austria with plans for more in the future. Magna is literally paving the path forward, making it easy for manufacturers to electrify their vehicles as much as they are comfortable with.
From where we sit, it is clear that the future is electric. The future is now.
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