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EVDrive Terra-Torque-Drive: Promising New Technology For High-Performance Electric UTVs

Published: 4/1/2014 Author: Marc Cesare, Managing Director, SVR Category: Tech
EVDrive Terra Torque Technology
Kawasaki Teryx4 w/EVDrive Terra Torque Drive
EVDrive has demonstrated their Terra-Torque-Drive™ electric motor technology for use in off-road powersports vehicles in a stock 4-seat Kawasaki Teryx4. The electric 4-wheel, 4-motor torque vectoring technology uses four sealed liquid-cooled EVDrive EVD35 35kW/47hp peak drive sub-systems, de-tuned to ~30kW/hp each or delivering a total of ~160hp/120kW peak. At each motor shaft, ~66 ft-lbs (89 Nm) peak torque is delivered. As currently configured, 726 ft-lbs (984 N·m) peak torque is delivered which allows the vehicle to perform zero radius turns. This basically means the vehicle can spin in place. The demonstrator has a top speed of 45 mph, which can be reached in 4 seconds with good traction. With software-controlled motors on each wheel, the wheels can be programmed to independently turn at any speed or direction which allows for some great handling possibilities. Additional traction modes are planned including auto dynamic terrain type Posi-traction control, variable inclination angle offset descent control, zero radius turns on incline, emergency 4-wheel panic braking/stop and boulder climbing. The system also has regenerative braking.
Kawasaki Teryx4 w/EVDrive Terra Torque Drive
Go-To-Market Strategy
EVDrive's strategy to bring the technology to market is to partner with an established OEM rather than bring a vehicle to market on their own or sell conversion services or kits for creating an electric UTV. There are several reasons for this approach. First, customers expect support when they spending this much money and the product is a new technology. While you may find some leading edge buyers willing to buy one of these vehicles from a smaller company, if you are interested in any type of sales volume you need a dealer and service network to support the vehicle and a company that customers know will still be around if they need them. Another reason is the cost of developing a vehicle and building a production line runs into the millions of dollars. An established OEM has both the money and experience in bringing a new UTV to the market.
The company is currently in talks with OEMs but has not signed any contracts. They had been working with an OEM previously but internal problems on the OEMs side caused the OEM to back out of the partnership. If a contract was signed tomorrow, an EVDrive powered UTV could be on the market in 18 months according to Tice, based on a typical development schedule for this type of product. A fast-tracked process might bring one to market in as few as 12 months. Management is currently shooting for a late 2015 launch and plans call for an initial potential volume of 5,000 vehicles.
One issue with finding an OEM according to Tice is that the technology "…represents a paradigm shift so it will take somebody with guts to come out and join with us." There may be fear on the part of OEMs that a UTV with the EVDrive technology would cannibalize their existing gas vehicle sales. If the technology performs as shown so far and can be delivered at a good price this may very well be true. Part of any success will involve a paradigm shift in both the eyes of the customer and OEMs that believe performance equals gas or diesel powered UTVs. On the other hand, if you are an OEM wouldn't you like to be the one doing the cannibalizing rather than one of your competitor ‘s or an entirely new market entrant. An appropriate comparison might be Tesla. Why didn't one of the established OEMs do what they did? Tesla has now established itself as very good brand if not "the" brand for electric cars. It would be naïve for existing UTV OEMs to think that this type of technology will not eventually enter the market and displace at least some of their sales.
A primary target market for EVDrive's electric UTV is the higher end recreational 4-seater UTVs in the price range of $18,000 -$23,000. Other markets include the prosumer and commercial segments. Management estimates the size of the serviceable available market to be in the range of 75,000 to 100,000 vehicles. In terms of price point, Tice expects a vehicle that can be priced within $1,000 to $2,000 of the MSRP of similar UTVs currently on the market. The greater margins at the higher priced end of the UTV market may allow the new vehicle to be priced at a similar MSRP if OEMs/dealers are willing to take slightly lower margins. This may be possible since high-end vehicle customers tend to spend significant amounts of money on options and accessories which are high margin and would offer an opportunity for dealers to makeup for lower profits from vehicle pricing.
More on the EVDrive Technology
The current plan is to work with an OEM to modify one of their existing gas-powered models to take the EVDrive technology. Modification saves both development time and money compared to starting from scratch and building a purpose-built vehicle, and also minimizes the risk for an OEM partner. EVDrive chose a Kawasaki Teryx 4 for their demonstrator vehicle because they liked the chassis and layout of the vehicle, wheelbase to track ratio, smaller turning radius and large break over angle to minimize getting hung up on obstacles. "There is no bones about it, it is one of the strongest chassis and Kawasaki did a great job of packaging. They get four comfortable seats in a shorter wheelbase. The ability to do a smoother zero radius turns is amplified with a shorter wheelbase." remarked Tice.
What you do lose with modifying an existing gas-powered vehicle is having an optimal weight distribution and optimal packaging of all the vehicle's components. In the demonstrator vehicle the battery (10KW hour lithium battery) sits under the front seat and the range extender goes where the gas engine was. According to Tice, "If you had a purpose built design, perhaps you would develop a Tesla Model S like configuration to build a very thin frame above the structural frame to hold the batteries so you would save all that space under the front seat for other uses such as storage and to distribute the component weights in a more optimal way."
Any vehicle developed would feature inboard mounted electric motors at all four wheels. Downsizing to two motors/wheels does not make sense since you would lose all-wheel drive. A better way to reduce costs would be to scale down the horsepower of the motors/controllers. The loss of horsepower would cost you the zero turn radius capability but that might be appropriate for less demanding and lower end consumer applications and "electronic differential features" would still be possible. This is one of the advantages of the EVDrive design. They outsource the electric motors/controllers to high volume manufacturers which can be produced with varying amounts of horsepower at high volume, high quality and low cost so modifications to the vehicle's capabilities can be made to match market segment applications relatively easily.
So what is the key intellectual property that EVDrive brings to the table? As Tice explains a lot of the EVDrive value is in the software platform and integration of the all the sub-systems into an optimally balanced system.
"The VCU [Vehicle Control Unit] is our own hardware, our own computer, our own software. And on that VCU operates our battery management system and our torque vectoring software platform. Torque vectoring is not trivial. To be able to adjust torque for each wheel torque depending on vehicle attitude, steering wheel acceleration, etc. It took us a long time to develop that platform and get it to work right. It is also a platform that talks in CAN bus. That is a level of sophistication that is only seen at the automotive level not on UTVs. It is our own CAN bus architecture, VCU, battery management system, torque vectoring, and battery pack design regardless of what cells. There are trade secrets on how those are put together. So the motors and controllers are off the shelf but the special ‘thin' gearboxes and how the whole system is integrated is proprietary. In addition, all the hardware and software facilities are built-into the torque vectoring system to support the software app analogies of mechanical systems, as Posi-locking, Stability Control, Traction Control, etc."
Working with an OEM to bring the technology to market would also involve adding the required stability, traction and safety controls into the current VCU software. Also the ability to zero radius turn fully or partially on slopes while maintaining center location would be added as well. The vehicle has a lot of power so safeguards will be built in to not allow a driver to flip the vehicle under certain conditions of vehicle attitude (e.g. on a slope) and applied power.
The EVDrive system is exciting new technology that has the promise of improving the capabilities of UTVs and hopefully they will be announcing a partnership with an OEM in the near future. SVR will keep you updated on their progress.
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