INTERVIEW: Steering tomorrow’s car

Technology Trends

Rising EV demand and advanced steering needs boost EPS systems development, as discussed with Titan executives.

The increasing demand for electric vehicles and the need for advanced steering technologies have driven the development of electric power steering (EPS) systems. To learn more, we spoke to executives from Titan, a UK-based specialist in developing steering systems for bespoke and lower-volume manufacturers, covering a range from manual and hydraulic solutions to next-gen electric and steer-by-wire (SBW) systems.

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

S&P Global Mobility: Could you give us some background on Titan and its history in manufacturing electric steering systems? And what is your USP [unique selling proposition]?

Titan: We develop steering systems for bespoke and lower-volume manufacturers. The company has design, engineering and technology expertise across the steering spectrum, from manual and hydraulic solutions to next-generation electric (EPAS) and steer-by-wire systems.

What types of electric steering systems do you offer, and what vehicles are they typically designed for?

Our range of in-column EPAS technologies is in use across different applications. Our EPAS systems can be deployed to support prototype development vehicles and low-volume production vehicles. This broad application range goes from sports cars and hypercars to motorsport projects and commercial and autonomous applications. Our systems meet ISO 26262 ASIL D [International Organization for Standardization: Road vehicles — Functional safety] functional safety compliance and support Level 4 autonomy.

Our newly launched steer-by-wire technology uses a 12-volt nominal supply and Controller Area Network (CAN) bus communication, enabling greater flexibility in vehicle packaging and control.

Can you describe any unique features or innovations in your electric steering systems that set them apart from competitors?

For our all-new SBW system, we have developed a bespoke electric motor that we manufacture in-house alongside the entire steering system. It also features a proprietary 12 or 48V electronic control system. Our vertically integrated approach ensures the development of a totally optimized package.

Another USP relates to the actual setup of the company. Customers dealing with larger tier 1 suppliers often find themselves facing a dilemma: Being offered a “take-it-or-leave-it off-the-shelf” steering solution. We can provide a manufacturer, be that an EV startup or established OEM [original equipment manufacturer], with a bespoke by-wire steering system that meets their requirements. This is an especially compelling attribute for those organizations creating vehicles in the high-performance and luxury-automotive segments.

What is the production capacity of your manufacturing facility, and what is your typical lead time for producing steering systems?

Located at St. Neots, UK, we have a two-building site that includes a steering technology demonstration suite and a manufacturing facility with 25 CNC (computer numerical control) machining centers, including five-axis milling machines. We also use virtual development and tool design technologies, including Finite Element Analysis, Computational Fluid Dynamics and Design for Manufacture to assist with the ease of technology development, and the build and repeatability of assembly.

On average, it takes Titan between 15 months and two years to develop a production-ready steering system. That said, all of Titan’s steering systems are bespoke-designed for lower-volume applications. We can cater for one-offs to 1,000 unit/month volumes, with production times for initial prototypes measured in days.

Can you provide references or case studies of previous projects where you supplied electric steering systems?

We are working with many of the world’s leading supercar and next-generation electric commercial vehicle manufacturers on these very systems.

What specific features or aspects of steering solutions make bespoke “tune-ability” crucial for lower-volume manufacturers?

Being able to tune a steering system is vital for a brand — for sports car and performance carmakers, the “feel” of the steering defines much of the character of the car. Let us take a conventional electric steering system, for example. What masks the feedback to the driver is the inertia of the electric motor, but Titan solves that issue by creating a digital model of the inertia, and then compensating for it with our control software. Our motor then behaves in such a way that the feedback from the road directly translates to the driver through the steering wheel. And because of the in-house development of the motor and the software, we can infinitely tune that response to the customer’s requirements.

Can you elaborate on the factors that are contributing to the expected explosion in the production of mission-specific EVs in the coming years?

On the one hand, we have urban emissions-based factors. For example, many city centers already have ultralow-emission zones, with plans to go fully zero emission in the coming years. On the other hand, we have a demand for delivery vehicles, driven by the rise in e-commerce.

Thirdly, because upcoming EVs are based on skateboard architectures, there is now the opportunity to create new types of vehicles quickly and cost-effectively. This is because EV drivetrains can now be very flexible, with configurations such as all-wheel steer, rear-steer, or conventional front-steer — all with different wheelbases to suit a specific load-carrying use case.

That is why a revolution in urban mobility is coming and it will allow customers to specify exactly the vehicle they need, from small last-mile delivery EVs, perfect for the city center, to autonomous vehicles, commercial vehicles and taxis. Electric steering is vital for all-electric vehicle applications. These mission-specific EVs require a new way of thinking around vehicle design and they will all require flexible steering solutions, from electric to fully by-wire.

The demand for EPS systems is expected to vary depending on the vehicle segment and the level of integration of EPS technology. In the current market, low-end column-motor systems dominate the entry and lower-mid-class vehicle segments, while high-end rack-motor systems dominate the upper-mid and premium-class vehicle segments. However, advancements in vehicle electrical architectures and semiconductor-based integrated controller performance are driving the adoption of SBW systems as the future of light-vehicle steering technology. These SBW systems offer advantages in terms of compatibility with autonomous driving operations and flexible interior designs. As a result, SBW systems are projected to rapidly penetrate the light-vehicle market and achieve a global market share of 8% by 2033. Factors such as manufacturing capacity expansions, partnerships with OEMs and technical advances in steering feedback response technology, controller performance and cost-optimized hardware redundancy would influence the growth of the SBW market. Existing EPS suppliers will need to adapt and innovate to gain market share in this emerging market. To learn more, download the S&P Global Mobility “Steering systems — from power steering to steer-by-wire research report. It provides insights into the demand outlook for different EPS variants, the market strategies of high-end steering suppliers in the SBW market, and the EPS demand outlook for top OEMs adopting SBW systems in existing and upcoming vehicle platforms.

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