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USA: Eaton Technology for Conventional Vehicles Has Potential For Plug-in Cars

At an Eaton event last week the major topics at hand had more to do with improving the fuel economy of conventional combustion vehicles than with plug-in cars. Yet, even though it felt a little strange to be a bit outside of my current passion for plug-ins, it was good to re-engage with the combustion world and get some perspective. Even though the electric car has great potential to revolutionize, well, just about everything for the better, it still has a long way to go before it can do that in the amounts necessary.

Sure, the event did have a section devoted to the explicit support that Eaton has thrown the plug-in way, including the development of commercial charging equipment such as DC fast chargers and new cooperation with national fuel retailers to deploy them. But for the most part it was all valves, superchargers, and lighter weight traction control than anything else. And, as it turns out, the part of my brain obsessed with plug-ins couldn’t help analyzing all those advanced conventional car gizmos through that lens.

For instance, as I heard about Eaton’s new Ultra-posi traction control differential, all I could think was, “Man, this would be cool for an electric car that could have most of the features of all wheel drive without the added weight.” And, as the benefits of supercharging small displacement engines to provide better torque at lower engine speeds for increased performance and efficiency were trotted in front of my eyes, my mind filled with the possibilities supercharging could open up for a properly tuned EREV like the Chevy Volt.

Turns out, I’m not alone in seeing these possibilities. From everything from improved engine valvetrains to traction control, these new technologies, developed by Eaton and others, have just as much applicability in the world of plug-ins as they do in the world of conventional combustion.

When asked if Eaton had thought about combining superchargers with EREVs and Plug-in Hybrids such as the Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius, Dan Ouwenga, Senior Engineer for the supercharger group, said, “Yes, we’ve thought about that. In a nutshell you could tune the supercharger and engine to work in conjunction so that the engine was operating as efficiently as possible all the time.”

In an EREV, the engine isn’t connected directly to the wheels, so it doesn’t experience as much of a variation in engine speed and torque demands. In applications like this, a supercharger would allow the engine to run at much lower RPMs but provide more power to drive the generator and produce electricity—increasing overall engine efficiency. Ouwenga said he had “no comment” on any manufacturers Eaton may or may not be working with on this application, but he said to keep an eye out. How cool would that be to be able to say you had a supercharged plug-in hybrid?

And when it comes to giving plug-ins the benefits of all-wheel drive, Eaton’s Ultra-posi al just might do the trick. You can read more detail about the system in my post over at our sister site,, but suffice it to say that the Eaton Ultra-posi provides almost all the benefits of all wheel drive in a two wheel drive system that adds almost no additional weight and very little additional expense over a conventional differential. As many of you know, reducing weight is key to maximizing range on electric cars.


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