Nissan recently chose JATCO and Hitachi Astemo to supply something very important for future cars: the transmission. After covering the basics, I want to put this into historical perspective and industry trends, and then explain why it also shows something new.
The Nissan/Jatco/Hitachi Astemo deal
The short version of this story: Hitachi Astemo, known for its know-how in electronics, will build inverters and motors. These will be sold to JATCO, which will assemble the power units for Nissan’s electric and e-POWER (standard hybrid) vehicles.
For those not in the know, JATCO stands for Japan Automatic Transmission Company. It originally started as part of Nissan, but a partnership with Ford followed by a bankruptcy settlement with Mitsubishi and then a partial purchase by Suzuki made JATCO a major manufacturer of transmissions not only for vehicles Japanese, but also for many other global vehicles. businesses.
With the market for electric axles rapidly expanding, Hitachi Astemo is responding not only by increasing sales of its in-house developed electric axles to automakers around the world, but also by supplying motors and inverters for electric axles assembled by gearbox manufacturers. For this Nissan/JATCO contract alone, he will provide highly efficient, low-loss motors that use square wires as well as equally efficient inverters.
Going forward, Hitachi Astemo plans to consolidate its position as the world’s leading electrification provider. It will do this by capitalizing on the benefits gained from joining Hitachi Automotive Systems with Keihin, Showa and Nissin Kogyo in 2021 – such as integrated technologies and increased production bases – to create an even more powerful global force. The company plans to invest 300 billion yen in electrification by 2025, including R&D. It expects revenue to exceed 400 billion yen by 2025 and double revenue by 2030.
Using a unique cooling power module and small, thin, and highly heat-dissipating insulation mounting technology, Hitachi Astemo, in cooperation with Hitachi’s R&D group, has created an inverter with power density at the forefront of the industry. Torque density is a competitive advantage for Hitachi engines, which are the company’s founding product. This has been made possible through years of technological advancements in areas such as materials development and noise reduction in manufacturing technologies that create magnetic circuits from magnets, electromagnetic steel sheets and of windings.
Hitachi Astemo is a powerful systems integrator, with optimization control software for motors and gears. JATCO also focuses on the development and mass production of transmissions to produce compact and quiet gearboxes. This combined effort of motors and inverters from Hitachi Astemo creates a complete e-Axle package for Nissan, which boasts of its industry-leading efficiency, low vibration, low noise and modular design.
A bit of context
When it came to ICE cars decades ago, each automaker had their own engine designs, which they often pitted against their competitors. Six straight engines competed with V8s. Hemis competed with other piston and head designs. Prolific engines like the Small Block Chevy V8, Oldsmobile 3800cc engines, Toyota’s incredibly reliable R engines and Honda’s VTEC have all made a name for themselves.
But, in recent years, things have started to change in the industry. Major automakers standardized more and chose engine designs that could be used across their realms. For example, the Oldsmobile 3800 engine and its descendants ended up being used in everything from Chevrolets to Pontiacs to Buicks.
The uniqueness of different brands was abandoned and some major manufacturers even started to share engines between companies. BMW and Toyota now share engines in the Z4 and Supra, and there is also a common engine powering the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86. So even manufacturers from different continents and part of entirely different parent companies now share versions the most mature of their engine technique.
This trend continues with electric motors. While different manufacturers have significant differences in electric motor, gear reduction and power electronics, there is even less incentive to show special designs to customers. As far as most EV drivers know, an electric motor is an electric motor, with rare exceptions like this wild carbon-wrapped Tesla Plaid motor. As long as it produces some torque when you mash the skinny pedal and doesn’t burn through a battery too quickly, most people don’t really care about the details.
It allows for weird things, like GM giving Honda a head start for its first electric vehicles. It will start with the upcoming Prologue EV, which will be built on GM’s Ultium platform. The vehicle is obviously very similar to a GM, but it also has a very Honda design.
Conclusion: Obtaining important components from other manufacturers and consolidating manufacturing between manufacturers is not something new in the automotive industry, but it is becoming more common and more comprehensive.
What’s up on this
A big difference between the EV design and the ICE design is that the motor becomes much less autonomous. ICE engines and ICE transmissions have almost always been separate parts from separate factories, to be assembled at the assembly plant, but each of these systems was very complex and itself had many moving parts. With electric vehicles, the electric motor and the gearbox or transmission are much simpler.
So manufacturers are now building combined engines and transmissions. The industry tends to have numbers and names for transmissions, and the way it goes, they just group these drive units with the transmissions for their internal reflection. For example, the Chevy Bolt and Bolt EUV drive unit is assigned a number like other GM transmissions (in this case, it’s 1ET25).
Since an EV drive unit has much more in common with transmissions than it does with ICE engines, it makes sense for the industry to treat them like a transmission in their business dealings. But transmission manufacturers and manufacturing divisions will need to reach out to those familiar with electric motors and power electronics if they haven’t already cultivated it in-house.
This agreement is quite natural both for the industry and for Nissan.
Featured image courtesy of Nissan.
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