Courtesy of Hyundai

Hyundai Introduces Active Air Skirt To Make Electric Cars More Efficient

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When the latest press release from Hyundai Motor Group came clattering into the teletype machine in the sub-basement of CleanTechnica world headquarters, I thought it was pretty much a nothing burger. An active air skirt that shaves 0.008 of the Cd of the Genesis GV60? Oh, please.  Just take me out and shoot me! Then I read the press release a little more closely and discovered there are a whole host of little tweaks and smoothings that Hyundai and Kia are doing to make their electric cars slip through the air more easily and with less turbulence.

Meet The Hyundai Active Air Skirt

So what is an active air skirt? According to the folks at Hyundai Motor Group, it is a technology that controls the flow of air entering through the lower part of the bumper and effectively controls the turbulence generated around the front wheels of a vehicle. Its operation varies according to the speed of the vehicle. AAS technology minimizes the aerodynamic resistance generated during high speed driving, effectively improving the driving range and driving stability of electric vehicles.

In the EV era, competition to secure a better driving range from a single charge has become fierce, making the relationship between vehicles and aerodynamics even more important. Aerodynamic performance has a significant impact not only on power and performance but also on driving stability and wind noise.

The upshot of all this is that conventional cars with infernal combustion engines have always wasted enormous amounts of energy. When gas is cheap, who cares about efficiency? But electric cars have to be efficient because batteries can store less energy per unit of volume the gasoline does. One gallon of gas has the energy equivalence of a 33.7 kWh battery. Know what that means? It means a Belchfire 5000 can blow through 15 gallons of gas to go 250 miles, while an electric car has to make do with the equivalent of 2½ gallons of gas or less to go the same distance. Now do you understand why efficiency is so critical to an EV?

Reducing Cd Increases Range

That’s why manufacturers are exploring various measures to reduce the coefficient of drag (Cd), which is the resistance coefficient of the air acting in the opposite direction of the vehicle’s motion. The active air skirts are installed between the front bumper and the front wheels of the vehicle and are hidden during normal operation, but operate at speeds over 80 km/h (50 mph). It is stored again at 70 km/h (42 mph). The reason for the difference in deployment and storage speeds is to prevent frequent operation in specific speed ranges.

The active air skirts  only cover part of the front tires and not the entire front of a vehicle because of the characteristics of the E-GMP platform. It is more effective in improving aerodynamic performance to only cover the tire part since the floor of the platform is flat.

The Active Air Skirt increases down force at the front of a vehicle, which improves vehicle traction and high speed stability, according to HMG, which must have spent many hours in the wind tunnel and on computer simulations to develop the air skirt system. The skirts can be deployed at speeds over 200 km/h (125 mph) thanks to the application of rubber material on the lower part, which reduces the risk of external objects damaging the skirts while driving at high speeds.

Hyundai Active Air Skirt Coming Soon To A Car Near You

Hyundai and Kia say they have tested the air skirt system on a Genesis GV60 and found it reduced the drag coefficient (Cd) by 0.008 which translates into a reduction in drag of 2.8 percent. The gain in efficiency is expected to add about 6 km (3.7 miles) to the range of the Genesis GV60 at highway speeds. Both companies have applied for related patents in South Korea and the United States and plan to consider mass production after durability and performance tests.

“This technology is expected to have a greater effect on models such as SUVs where it is difficult to improve aerodynamic performance,” said Sun Hyung Cho, vice president and head of development for Hyundai Motor Group. “We will continue to strive to improve the driving performance and stability of electric vehicles through improvements in aerodynamics.”

The active air skirt is not the only arrow in Hyundai’s and Kia’s quiver when it comes to improving how efficiently their cars cleave a path through the air. They are applying various technologies, such as rear spoilers, active air flaps, wheel air curtains, wheel gap reducers and separation traps to vehicles to secure competitive drag coefficients. The Hyundai Ioniq 6 sedan is particularly good at moving the air out of its path efficiently. By incorporating many of those techniques, it has achieved a Cd of 0.21 — the lowest of any production car in the world.

The Takeaway

The time has long past where humans can extract oil in a process that creates massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, ship it across oceans in vessels that add their own pollution to the atmosphere, refine it in facilities that create clouds of crud in, around, and above them, then truck it to gas stations in diesel powered tankers that spew even more emissions in their wake only then to piss 70 percent of the energy in every gallon of gasoline away because we are too lazy or too stupid to care about the consequences of our actions.

Electric cars are not perfect. They struggle with range and charging in cold weather. They require drivers to learn a new way of driving in order to maximize their benefits, and they still need a robust charging infrastructure so that people can travel away from home without worrying about running out of battery power.

But are those quibbles enough to excuse being so profligate with our energy resources? Would anyone buy 10 pounds of beef and throw 7 pounds of it over the back fence for the vultures to fight over? And yet we feel justified in wasting 70 percent of the gasoline we buy and then complain about how expensive it is per gallon. The knock on gas powered cars would be far less strident if they were 80 to 90 percent efficient the way electric cars are.

Even the hybrids that Akio Toyoda is so in love with are not quite 40 percent efficient — good but not great. Show us a 7 passenger SUV or light truck with an internal combustion engine that is 80+ percent efficient and we’ll run right out and buy one. With the Earth getting hotter, what possible justification can there be for cars and trucks that waste 70% of the fuel we put into them? Electric cars are not perfected yet — far from it — but they are getting better all the time with help from Hyundai and Kia and other manufacturers.

It took a century to make conventional cars as reliable as they are today, so we can we all please just lighten up about electric cars and stop idolizing vehicles that puke out tons of pollution everywhere they go? It’s unconscionable in the midst of a climate emergency to cling to old ways that further degrade the one and only planet we will ever know.


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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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