LOHMAR, Germany – GKN Driveline, a unit of the U.K.’s GKN plc, is gearing up to take advantage of the automotive industry’s trend toward all-wheel-drive systems with a technology it says will save money and energy.

Working with braking and electronic stability control systems suppliers, GKN is in the midst of designing a system that reduces carbon dioxide emissions by automatically switching to front-wheel-drive mode when conditions don’t warrant AWD, says Jorg Trommer, engineering director-Torque Technology Group.

“We believe there is a market out there to look at a product between standard FWD and AWD,” Trommer tells Ward’s at a supplier tour here.

“So when you’re highway cruising, you don’t have to spin your full AWD system and your final drive unit. We’ll be able to use disconnect devices without driver intervention that just allow AWD to function when it’s really required and needed.”

GKN Driveline currently is in talks with several auto makers about the technology, but the system won’t be on the market for at least another five to seven years, Trommer says.

While a seamless switch to FWD without driver input is the main selling point of the system, Trommer admits some customers may want to have more control over the function. The supplier is considering adding a switch for the driver to activate the FWD mode, he says.

With demand for AWD systems on the rise in both Europe and the U.S., auto makers are asking for systems that provide a unique feel to their vehicles, Trommer says.

Ford (Motor Co.) doesn’t want to have the same system as General Motors Corp. or DaimlerChrsyler AG,” he says. “They are starting to use software controls for the system to differentiate themselves and to show different brand identity.”

“We’re not trying to sell engineering services,” he adds. “Our primary focus is to sell our products and use our competences and capabilities to help support our product sales. (We’re) not just doing it for the sake of software sales.”

Meanwhile, GKN Driveline, whose primary products are driveshafts and half shafts, says it is keeping a close eye on the emerging trend of all-electric vehicles, many of which employ individual electric motors at each wheel, eliminating the need for driveshaft components.

“We’ve seen demonstrator vehicles presented by OEMs,” says David Johnson, director of business development, Europe-Torque Technology Group.

“We’re seeing what impact that may have on our products today and our development activities. There would clearly be a change (to our business model), depending on the penetration of that kind of system.”

bpope@wardsauto.com