Innovation in electric vehicle technology isn't just being driven by the big names that grab the headlines. Scratch the surface and there are hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK alone doing their bit in creating components or systems that will be adopted by big brand names.
With so many engaged in so much work, there's almost too much to write about individually, but two projects caught our eye recently, which are worth writing about.
Petrolheads among you may well know of 'crate' engines. More often than not, when talking about crate engines people will think of Chevrolet LS V8s or Cummins diesels – used in mind-boggling conversions for the drag strip, coal-rolling or just plain old showing off. Now, long-time powertrain experts, Swindon Powertrain, have done the same for EVs by creating a compact, lightweight and high power electric drive unit that can be bought in 'crate' form.
Called the High Power Density (HPD) EV system and producing 107bhp, Swindon Powertrain is aiming its crate power unit at manufacturers after something 'off the shelf' and in low volumes – just as kit car and low-volume car makers have done with LS V8s and before that Rover V8s for many years.
“To date, niche manufacturers have not had access to compact, high-power EV powertrains they could source in low to mid volume, leading to a vacuum of supply,” says Swindon Powertrain’s managing director Raphaël Caillé. “When you factor in development costs, specialist OEMs haven’t been able to electrify their vehicles as quickly as they would like. Our ready-to-install ‘crate’ powertrain will accelerate EV adoption in sectors poorly served by the larger tier one manufacturers and integrators.”
The HPD is compact, at just 600mm wide by 440mm deep and 280mm tall, so it fits under the bonnet of a classic Mini with room to spare. It's also relatively lightweight, coming in at 70kg. Swindon has designed it for multiple uses, from classic car conversion kits through to sports cars and even small commercial vehicles. You'd also hope that, in the tradition of crate engines, shed-based amateur mechanics will be able to get their hands on it for use in all kinds of wacky conversions when it hits the market in 2020. You can read more about their Mini conversion here and what inspired the concept in our exclusive interview with Raphaël Caillé.
For the second time, the SMMT has brought together tech start-ups and SMES with big-name automotive manufacturers for its annual Future Mobility Challenge. Forty-three small companies had the opportunity to meet with and pitch their ideas to brands such as Ford Mobility, Bosch, Toyota, Honda and Volvo in an event aimed at driving cross-sector collaboration and provide genuine business opportunities to smaller innovators.
In an event which is akin in many ways to Dragons Den, the 43 SMEs and start-ups had to demonstrate their product or service to the investors. Whilst the Future Mobility Challenge isn't a 'cash on the table' type thing, good pitches to result in relationships being formed and ultimately, investments being made.
For example, at the inaugural event last year some 18 start-ups and SMEs (equating to 39 per cent of those involved) grabbed the attention of five well-known automotive brands which has led to further discussions with a view to creating partnerships or investment. And it's not just the small companies feeling the benefits, with David Skipp, Director of Partnerships & Innovation, Ford Mobility, said; “The Ford Mobility team built several valuable connections at the 2018 SMMT Future Mobility Challenge, and we’re looking forward to this year’s event. We are always keen to meet innovators in the mobility space who are interested to collaborate with us to change the way the world moves.”
Chief Executive of the SMMT, Mike Hawes, is similarly enthusiastic about the event, adding; “SMMT’s Future Mobility Challenge provides the perfect opportunity for automotive industry leaders and innovative technology SMEs to collaborate. The UK’s hard-won reputation as a hub for innovation and emerging new technologies means we can continue to attract some of the best and brightest from across the world to this event. We are on the cusp of a transport revolution, and UK automotive is ready for the journey.”