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DSI working on EV, hybrid drive systems in Oz

Drivetrain Systems International future-proofs transmission tech at Aussie R&D centre

28 Apr 2020

TRANSMISSIONS and drive systems that will soon go into series-production hybrid and electric vehicles are being designed and prototyped in Melbourne as increasing numbers of Chinese car-makers turn to the Australian-based development, testing, integration and calibration capabilities of Drivetrain Systems International (DSI).


Rescued from receivership by Chinese car-maker Geely in 2009 and then absorbed into Shanghai-based investment firm Shuanglin Group in late 2014, DSI has this year relocated its Australian technical centre from the eastern Melbourne suburb of Springvale to a much larger facility in nearby Scoresby.


The DSI technical centre is capable of designing and prototyping new transmissions and other drive systems from scratch, as well as integrating and calibrating them on pre-production test mules of vehicles from a range of Chinese car manufacturers.


Under development in Melbourne are transmissions that exploit DSI’s modular architecture in order to add hybrid drive capability, including all-wheel-drive hybrids that use an all-electric rear axle designed by the company in Australia and about to go into production.


In an interview with GoAuto, DSI lead project engineer James Stone explained that the “P2” (two-wheel-drive) format transmission replaces the torque converter with an electric motor and clutch assembly.


He said the system can also be configured to operate an “e-drive rear axle” to create the all-wheel-drive “P4 array”.


“The electric axle is just going into production now,” said Mr Stone. “The modular hybrid system we’re working on is still at the concept design phase.”


He suggested that the new hybrid transmission should be a slick, responsive operator, with six-speed dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs) among those benchmarked and considered “some of our competitors in China”.


Asked if DSI was looking into other transmission technologies such as DCT, DSI director Michael Gilcrist told GoAuto that market research had dissuaded the company from doing so.


“People are starting to shy away from that, particularly in the Asian market,” he said.


“There are companies in Asia that put a lot of money into developing these, they took a lot of time to develop, then they put them in the market and people in the marketplace don’t like it.”


Mr Stone added that DSI was also working on a trio of conventional transmissions that were “about to go into production”.


“Our core products at the moment are a high-torque rear-wheel-drive six-speed automatic, a medium-high-torque front-wheel drive and then also a lower-torque front-wheel drive,” he said, clarifying that all are six-speed torque-converter units.


Despite its manufacturing plant in Albury closing in October 2014, DSI has maintained the ability to design and manufacture transmissions from scratch in Australia, then validate them in-house at the Melbourne facility before they enter mass production in China.


“The initial concept and design starts here, we then do the initial validation prototypes that are all built locally and we use local companies to for all our component manufacturing; we’ve got a local list of suppliers we call on,” said Mr Stone.


Mr Gilcrist said the next tasks were ensuring DSI transmissions would fit into the vehicles produced by Shuanglin Group’s car-making client base and then calibrating them – both on dynos at its Melbourne facility and, often, on Australian roads.


“We see them (test vehicles) in GoAutoNews every now and then,” joked Mr Stone. “Most likely, if you spot a Chinese vehicle with left-hand drive, it is us.”


Mr Gilcrist told GoAuto the modular design of DSI transmissions also helped the company quickly adapt them to different vehicles.


“That’s an advantage for us and the other advantage is having our in-house software and calibration,” he said.


Mr Gilcrist said the Australian technical facility also meant his team was often involved in Shuanglin Group’s sales process.


“When the sales guys approach customers you’ve got to be able to show your technical capability so we get involved with that as well,” he explained, and agreed that the DSI facility in Melbourne placed the company well for success in Australia’s post-car-manufacturing era.


Asked how many Chinese brands the Australian DSI team was working with, Mr Gilcrist said there were four, across which the company had done “seven or eight” projects.


“Obviously, we’ve gone and talked to more (car-makers) and those are the ones that we’ve landed, so there’s probably another seven or eight on top of that, which we’ve introduced ourselves to,” he added.


Mr Stone confirmed that the majority of work was for “light to medium” SUVs, such is the trend, but Mr Gilcrist maintained that the company was also capable of beefier products if required.


“If someone wanted us to design a heavy vehicle transmission for them, nothing is stopping us from working with them,” he said, referring to the fact South Korean brand SsangYong used DSI transmissions in light-commercial vehicles for many years.


Asked if a return to supplying SsangYong and its Indian majority shareholder Mahindra was on the cards, Mr Gilcrist said: “Obviously it’s business we’d like to get back but that’s business I guess for our Chinese arm.”


In addition to the modular design approach and in-house integration and calibration capabilities, Mr Gilcrist named “robust and proven designs” as among DSI’s selling points.


“We do try to be very cost-competitive – you have to be in the Asian market – we do have quite robust and proven designs, so what we’ve done is taken our original designs and where we’ve seen problems with those we’ve built those problems out of them,” he said.

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