Case study

Power controller steals a march on the electric vehicle market

Novel power converter device developed by North East company with support from Innovate UK attracts global interest from car manufacturers.

Image of the latest Sevcon GEN5 Size 9 controller, about the size of an overgrown laptop.
Sevcon's GEN5 Size 9 product ... soon to be ramped up in production.

A Gateshead company with more than 50 years’ history of expertise in motor control systems has stolen a march on competitors in the fast moving world of electric and hybrid vehicles.

When Sevcon won Innovate UK funding in late 2011 to develop an electric motor controller which could help cut truck emissions, few people saw a commercial future for electric sports cars.

Nearly five years later, the whole market looks very different. It’s truly global and there seems to be no limit to the kind of vehicles that can be ‘electrified’.

Sevcon’s latest GEN5 on-road electric motor controller, about the size of an overgrown laptop, performs a vital role in converting power from a battery voltage to drive an electric motor.

On test with forklift manufacturer

It is being tested by several customers, including a forklift truck manufacturer and a high performance sports car manufacturer.

The GEN5 Size 9 product is currently in low volume serial production, and will be ramping up in the coming months. The company has prototype parts with customers for evaluation and projects are under way in China, the US and Europe.

What makes it so special is that it’s a year or more ahead of competitor products in terms of commercialisation. Steve Savage, Vice President of Programme Management, said:

The Innovate UK grant allowed us to accelerate development before the market was really fully mature. We now have a really good product in the electrification market, just as it is starting to grow.

In some respects, the product allows us to influence what customers want. They know they need some sort of electrification or hybridisation to cut emissions but they don’t always know what. We come along and say: ‘Guess what, guys? We’ve got a solution’.

Behind all this is the drive to meet or even anticipate restrictions on vehicle emissions.

GEN5 grew from a four-year collaborative HDSRDS (High Torque Density Switched Reluctance Drive System) R&D project, with Cummins & Newcastle University, funded under Innovate UK’s Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform with grants totalling £550,000.

Automotive safety standards

The GEN5 works with most electric motors available on the market, has world-class power density and meets latest automotive safety standards.

It has been designed for, and tested on, half a dozen vehicles already, some looking at an electric-only solution and others hybrid/electric, helping internal combustion engines deliver the same performance but with greatly reduced emissions. Steve added:

When we started out, we were predominantly focused on bus and truck, with the potential for a passenger car variant. We’ve since found that many different applications want the same levels of power, using it for either primary traction or as a torque boost.

That’s a broad market that didn’t really exist when we started four years ago.

Engineering staff doubled

Although listed on the Nasdaq, Sevcon’s senior management and 100 employees are based in in the UK. Some 25 new jobs were added in R&D alone in 2016 and engineering staff numbers have doubled in less than 3 years.

The company continues to expand, and is planning to move into a bigger site in the North East. It has also recently opened a new R&D site in Oxford.

Up to 60 more people work in global operations, including a joint venture in China. Sevcon recently acquired a major Italian company, Bassi, with sales of $16 million to add to Sevcon turnover of $40 million.

Published 14 September 2016