AUBURN HILLS, MI – The growing popularity of all-wheel drive, especially in northern climates, has been well documented, which is good news for GKN and other axle suppliers.

But another trend, the electrified rear axle which can turn an AWD vehicle into a hybrid, has driveline producers gearing up, literally, for what they anticipate will be booming business.

U.K.-based GKN supplies the rear axle with an integrated electric motor for the new Volvo XC90 hybrid, which goes on sale in the U.S. this fall. The eye-catching Porsche 918 Spyder and BMW i8 plug-in hybrids integrate GKN electric drives on the front axles. In Europe, the supplier provides the Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4’s electrified axle.

GKN considers itself the market leader as well as the segment’s pioneer, having delivered more than 300,000 “M-4WD” e-axles for Nissan and Mazda hybrids sold in Japan since 2002.

Within 10 years, 30% of AWD systems in the U.S. will be electrified, the supplier estimates.

“We see it as a big trend in the auto industry,” Ray Kuczera, GKN Driveline’s vice president-product technology, tells WardsAuto during the dedication of GKN Automotive’s new North American headquarters here. “We are bidding on several other types of axles as well for other OEMs.”

As automakers attempt to combine and maximize the potential of vehicle platforms, Kuczera says the electric rear axle is a simple way to convert a front-drive architecture to a fuel-saving hybrid that also enables AWD when necessary.

“This allows them to use the bones of an existing platform and add an electric rear axle drive without a giant tear-up and really get a lot of benefits and the safety and security of AWD,” he says.

Kuczera says most automakers are interested in one electric motor mounted to an axle to power both wheels, but the short-lived Fisker Karma PHEV was one of the few vehicles integrating an electric motor for each of the rear wheels.