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Driven by success
One supplier’s high-tech innovation in HEVs systems is bringing much joy to the automotive world
Formed in 2003, Ashwoods Automotive stemmed from the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) industry as a leading supplier of vehicles for customers throughout the UK. Identifying the LPG market as an area providing the most significant cost, fuel and emissions savings, this became a primary focus for Ashwoods for over five years. However the company recognized that the future of automation and energy lay in hybrid and electrical vehicles and turned its attention to this segment.
Ashwoods Automotive was ready to commercialize its hybrid drive technology which catapulted the company into an international arena and made way for its triple award win at the 2011 Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation Awards for the Power, Sustainability and Transport categories.
Learning at an early stage about the operational considerations driving procurement decisions among fleet managers, Ashwoods set out to develop hybrid and electrical vehicle technology that optimized performance at a reasonable price; a combination that was not yet available with current designs. It was this that drove the company to take an alternative approach and make vehicles more market acceptable in terms of price. By combining the right levels of performance, price and durability, Ashwoods found the best formula that would form the basis of its new product - the hybrid drive.
The hybrid drive recovers the kinetic energy usually wasted through braking and deceleration, instead of using it for battery charge. Inspired by Formula 1’s Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, the technology uses the recovered energy to assist the engine, rather than providing additional power (as the Formula 1 system does), thereby lowering the loading and the resulting fuel consumption.
The implementation and commercialization of the hybrid drive has proven to effectively reduce CO2 emissions and fuel cost by a minimum of 15% more than other systems. While the product is highly advanced compared to early prototypes, the development process has been met with challenges along the way, primarily with components which often had to be modified in a way that was fit for purpose.
Battery management systems (BMS) became a key focus for most companies in this industry. As the single biggest challenge facing electric and hybrid vehicles these systems can compromise all aspects of vehicle performance.
The lack of suitable systems available on the market paved the way for Ashwoods Automotive to take the initiative to develop its own BMS that later became an integrated aspect of its Hybrid Drive technology.
“We’ve had many notable points of success throughout our journey so far, our first being a government tender for 100 hybrid Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs),” says MD Mark Roberts. “Since the early days, we’ve secured contracts from the likes of Transport for London, Royal Mail, 20 of the largest UK councils and have provided the fleet vehicles used by BT.”
The company’s achievements continue, as it garners interest and recognition from a variety of industry bodies. Ashwoods Automotive had not previously tapped into the IET’s extensive knowledge network, but soon became aware and familiar with how the organization has helped similar companies throughout their journeys with its knowledge services, events, training and networking opportunities. This awareness then led to the company entering and subsequently winning three of the 2011 IET Innovation Awards.
Recognized for its uniqueness and the benefits to light commercial vehicles via its rapid and non-intrusive retrofit, the IET judging panel consisting of industry experts commented that Ashwoods’ innovation proved successful and reliable in operation. The panel felt the technology would gain popularity with potential customers, due to the substantial fuel and emissions savings made.
“A lot has changed over the years. We have become a very fast growing company, starting with just four people in 2008 to 27 in just four years. We’ve been successful in a lot of highly competitive situations including the IET Innovation Awards which has most certainly raised our profile within the industry and has led to a number of contract wins for us,” comments Roberts.
Ashwoods Automotive continues to engage and impress the technology community, proving successful in competitive applications for funding, such as its bid with the Technology Strategy Board. Awarded with the position as the lead partner in a consortium with other companies including Citroen, Ashwoods Automotive secured £1.8 million in funding to develop an ultra advanced electric power system scalable from 25kw up to 150kw.
With ambitions to continue growing, Ashwoods Automotive aims to deliver 500 hybrid vehicles over the next 18 months while increasing sales of its BMS and electric motors. Following the success of the Hybrid Drive the company looks set to evolve their technology and launch the second generation while keeping in regular contact with both the IET Energy and Transport as a trusted source of essential engineering intelligence.
Roberts concludes, “Having achieved great success in the UK and Europe, we are in a unique place to set our sights on other international markets. The IET will act as a great support system in our attempt to do so, by arming us with the tools and a hub to share knowledge and success stories with other companies within the industry. We’ve realised how much more we need to immerse ourselves within the IET and through more time and involvement we will be able to learn and contribute towards the already well established IET knowledge network.”