The megatrend of vehicle electrification continues to accelerate as the global auto industry continues to plow billions of dollars into all facets of technology for electric vehicles (EVs). The massive change in powertrains is shaking up many aspects of engineering, among them a complete rethink of vehicle chassis. Since General Motors shocked the automotive world with its Autonomy EV concept vehicle and its incorporation of many powertrain elements into a skateboard chassis, the EV community has embraced the concept.
The latest example is a launch announcement from an automotive startup working with leading Tier One suppliers and automakers including Mitsubishi to revolutionize the industry by producing what it claims is the world’s first truly flat skateboard chassis. In July, REE emerged from stealth with its pioneering flat and modular skateboard chassis for what it claims will be a more efficient, reliable, and scalable electric future.
By integrating all of the components formerly found under the hood of the car into the wheel, REE offers optimal freedom of design, multiple body configurations on a single platform, reduced vehicle size and weight, and increased energy and operational efficiency. The company’s approach places the motor, steering, suspension, drivetrain, sensing, braking, thermal systems, and electronics into the wheel, creating a “truly flat” platform. The design provides many claimed benefits including a low center of gravity to support the vehicle’s agility and stability, a reduction in vehicle footprint and weight, and improved energy efficiency and performance—aspects the company says are crucial to the electric and autonomous vehicle revolution.
REE’s platform—aimed at automakers, mobility providers, and delivery companies—is based on a quad-motor system and includes active height-levelling suspension, steer-by-wire, and a smart quad gearbox. The platform can enable a high performance car able to do 0-60 mph in less than 3 s, an off-road SUV with advanced active suspension technology, and can also be used as the base of a robotaxi or a 10-ton cross country truck.
“The concepts of the past are limited and restrict the ability of the automotive industry to realize the electric and autonomous reality they are striving for,” said Daniel Barel, Co-Founder and CEO of REE. “Until now, the industry has operated by making incremental improvements on the traditional design of the automotive vehicle. At REE, we believe that in order to hasten the automotive revolution we need to reinvent the wheel—quite literally.”
REE believes that adaptation of its universal framework could replace multiple platforms for OEMs resulting in substantial savings. The company is collaborating with OEMs and suppliers including Mitsubishi, Musashi, Linamar, Tenneco, and NXP. At the 2019 IAA in Frankfurt, one of REE’s partners Musashi held a press conference where REE CEO Barel presented the platform. Before that, he answered a few questions from Autonomous Vehicle Technology.
AVT: Talk about the current market for selling electrified chassis and the competition?
Barel: Globally, 2 million EVs were sold in 2018, with Tesla leading the pack with its Model 3. The competition would be OEMs who are rapidly ramping up EV production like Tesla, VW, Ford, GM, Geely/Polestar/Lynk & Co., and several others.
AVT: What are the top use cases and/or applications?
Barel: REE’s platform provides manufacturers with unrivalled flexibility and efficiency, as REE’s chassis and wheel can be the basis of any type of vehicle. From a sports car going 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds to the basis of an SUV or family car, to a robotaxi or an autonomous delivery vehicle— REE’s flatform and wheel can be used for it all.
AVT: How does your company’s platform compare with other market offerings?
Barel: To create a truly flat chassis, all drive components—including motor, steering suspension, drivetrain, sensing, electronics, brake, rim and tire, and cooling—must be located inside the wheel. REE is the only company in the world that has created a fully flat chassis from wheel to wheel by putting every component formerly found under the hood of the car into the wheels. Other market offerings use standard suspension, drivetrain, steering and braking, resulting in a semi-flat chassis configuration, one that is flat in the middle but not the front or back. With REE’s fully flat and modular chassis, OEMs have unparalleled flexibility in the design and building of vehicles. REE’s platform can be the basis of any type of model, saving them billions of dollars in the process. Moreover, REE’s design and unique approach frees up space by 67% and reduces vehicle weight by 33%, enabling a higher load per ride. This level of efficiency significantly helps the electrification process, reduces strain on batteries and ensures the power in the vehicle lasts longer.
AVT: What are any other technical highlights of your new offering?
Barel: In terms of serviceability, REE offers a unique design, which enables swapping complete corner modules for rapid service and minimum downtime. Full steer-by-wire controls, single-wheel steer abilities, and a novel drivetrain solution that can transmit torque in a very narrow package are also parts of the offering.
AVT: What are the biggest business and technical/developmental challenges moving forward?
Barel: The most significant challenge we face is pushing an industry that is very traditional and slow-moving to fundamentally change their conception of the design and build of vehicles.