Auto manufacturers are becoming more like assemblers of subsystems sourced from outside suppliers, devoting more attention to light-weighting

By Steve Hanley. This story about Williams Advanced Engineering was first published on Gas2. 6 Sep 2017

The arrival of the electric car is inspiring a new era of innovation in the auto industry and making fundamental changes in the way cars are built. Those changes are opening the door for new companies to bring their expertise and technical knowledge to bear on the process of creating new cars. One such company is Williams Advanced Engineering, an offshoot of the Williams Formula One operation.

Electrics typically mount the battery pack — the car’s heaviest component — as low as possible in the chassis so all that weight has the least effect on handling and driving dynamics. Compared to internal combustion engines, electric motors and the controllers are smaller and can be mounted anywhere there is space available. As a result, new electric cars are reverting to a form of “body on frame” construction that was typical in the industry prior to the arrival of unibody construction. Most trucks still use this approach.

Today, the new paradigm is the “skateboard” approach, in which the motor, battery, suspension, brakes, and other components necessary to make the car go, stop, and steer are baked into one unified structure. Then manufacturers can take that structure and mount whatever style of body and interior on it they want. It could be a sports car or a crossover — what’s underneath remains the same. Tesla led the way with the skateboard approach, but others have been picking up on it.

Williams Advanced Engineering is heavily involved in electric cars. It is the designated supplier of batteries for the Formula E open-wheel electric car racing series. Formula One rules today mandate a power package that includes an onboard electric motor and battery system. Now, the company has taken its skills and created an innovative electric car platform concept.

Named the FW-EVX, the new chassis from Williams is intended to make EVs lighter, safer, and more environmentally friendly with better performance and longer range. Weight is the enemy for electric cars. More weight equals shorter range and range is a critical factor for potential EV customers. The concept features innovations in battery pack design, cooling systems, and lightweight structures that are integrated into a single, scalable platform.

Suspension components are made from carbon fiber reinforced components that are 40% lighter than conventional aluminum pieces and made with a proprietary zero waste process. Carbon fiber suspensions are commonplace in Formula One racing, so Williams has many years of experience fabricating them. The Williams chassis does away with the familiar strut-style front and rear suspension layout that has been the norm in the car industry for the past 50 years, particularly in front-wheel-drive cars.

Paul McNamara, technical director at Williams, says: “Vehicle efficiency has always been core to Williams — whether it be in Formula One or with Williams Advanced Engineering’s customer projects. These technologies, and our thinking around how to create a tightly integrated, lightweight chassis and powertrain package, have the potential to greatly increase the competitiveness of the next generation of electric vehicles. By making EVs more attractive to consumers, we can help accelerate their adoption and the air quality benefits they bring.”

Today, auto manufacturers are becoming more like assemblers of subsystems sourced from outside suppliers. That may nettle some traditional companies but it opens the door to innovation by new players hoping to find a market for their ideas. Eliminating the need for emissions testing means more people can get involved in the future of automobiles because the costs of getting started are lower.

Source: Electric Cars Report