DEARBORN, MI – Siemens VDO Automotive Corp. has developed its own hybrid-electric drivetrain it says provides both 25% better fuel economy and exceptional performance.

Operating from a former Ballard Power Systems Inc. facility tucked away in a nondescript industrial park here, Siemens VDO engineers showcase a Mercedes-Benz C230 sports coupe that has had its 1.8L inline 4-cyl. mill mated to the supplier’s parallel hybrid system.

The system, which boasts two electric motors, one mounted directly to the drivetrain and the other a side-mounted starter generator, will make its way into a production vehicle for the ’11 model year, Tomas Dohrner, integration manager-business development, tells Ward's.

“We have done more (hybrid) test cars than I can even keep track of. By 2011 we’ll have the system in a production car,” he says, declining to reveal the identity of the first customer.

From the onset of development, Siemens VDO brass gave engineers two goals. First, develop a system that would provide 25%-30% in fuel savings. Second, make it capable of propelling a vehicle from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6 seconds. The MB C230 test vehicle accomplishes both goals.

During a test drive here, the car accelerates up to about 30 mph (48 km/h) in electric-only mode before the gasoline engine kicks in. At about 50 mph (80 km/h), laying into the accelerator brings the 75kW electric motor and its 207 lb.-ft. (280 Nm) of torque to life, propelling the coupe as if a V-8 lurked under the hood.

This combination of fuel economy and performance were outlined as objectives from the beginning for a reason, Dohrner says.

“We are customers, too. And we wanted to do something fun,” he says. “If we could do something that was fun for us, the customer is going to think the same way. And if the customer thinks the vehicle is fun, we can sell it.”

The test car is powered by a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery consisting of 100 individual cells. To address the problem of overheating inherent to Li-ion technology, Siemens VDO engineers developed a management system that monitors each individual cell for heat levels and voltage.

If a certain cell begins to overheat due to high energy content, the access energy is transferred to another cell.

Siemens VDO is not the first with such a management system, the likes of which have been kept from production application as a result of the disconnect between hybrid-electric vehicle producers and battery suppliers, Dohrner says.

“Some of these battery companies today are established to be (simply) battery companies,” he says. “A battery is a chemical reaction, and here what you’re doing is marrying chemical reaction together with an electronic measuring instrument.

“It’s a little bit harder to have a chemist and electrical engineer working together than it is to have an electrical and mechanical engineer working together.”

One advantage Siemens VDO’s hybrid powertrain has over competitors’ devices is its ability to be adapted to virtually any vehicle with minimal modification, Dohrner says.

“It’s compatible with any vehicle because of its setup,” he says, adding that most production hybrids feature powertrains designed for that specific vehicle.

“Here it’s more like components, where you can pick that component and this component and fit them together to go in the vehicle. It’s a simpler way to fit it into a system. We see this as way of the future.”

Although the powertrain can be adapted to most vehicles, it’s unlikely an auto maker would simply apply it as-is, as most like to imbue their vehicles with driving characteristics specific to their brands.

“There’s no OEM today that would say to a supplier, ‘We don’t care about our drive characteristics, let’s slap something in there,’” Dohrner says. “So I’m 100% sure if an OEM came to us today and we gave them something that would fit, they would make some changes.”

Parent Siemens AG last month agreed to sell Siemens VDO to Continental AG for E11.4 billion ($15.6 billion). That transaction between the two Germany-based companies is expected to close by year’s end, subject to government approval.

Siemens VDO acquired the former Ballard operations here in December for $3.5 million.

bpope@wardsauto.com