BMW-backed supplier aims to change how electric motors are made

MUNICH - German electric motor startup DeepDrive could shake up the EV sector. That is the view of former Audi and Volvo board member Peter Mertens, who says the company's solution "is groundbreaking technology." "It's not just a nice little way of optimizing something.

It's really a paradigm shift," Mertens told Automotive News Europe. BMW has invested in DeepDrive. So has German supplier Continental, which has also formed a strategic partnership with the company.

Continental will integrate its brake system into DeepDrive's in-wheel motors to create a so-called drive-brake module. In addition, DeepDrive co-CEO Felix Poernbacher said the company is working with eight of the 10 largest automakers in the world on series applications. Most of that work is around DeepDrive's patented dual-rotor electric motor, which in March was deemed to be more efficient, more cost effective, more sustainable and offer higher performance than rival topologies.

The rivals include interior permanent magnet machines like those found in the Tesla Model 3 and most current EVs; externally excited synchronous machines found in some BMW full-electric vehicles (an advantage of EES machines is they use no permanent magnets); and axial flux permanent magnet machines that so far have only appeared in ultraluxury cars such as the Koenigsegg Regera and are poised to enter Mercedes-Benz models via the automaker's subsidiary, Yasa. Those findings come from an independent study done by Shafigh Nategh, who is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a senior principal engineer at EV maker Polestar, and the Polytechnic University of Turin. In addition, DeepDrive says its dual-rotor motor topology can help EVs reach a range of more than 800 km while also saving automakers more than EUR1 billion in costs when deployed at scale.

Additionally, it enables EVs to reduce carbon emissions by a fifth. "Some OEMs tell us 'Your motor technology has the potential to become the standard of how you build electric motors within the automotive industry'," Poernbacher told Automotive News Europe, Mertens agrees with that assessment, which is why he is both an advisor to the company as well as an investor. "I'm trying to help these fantastic founders find their way into partnerships," said Mertens, who was previously Audi's head of technical development and prior to that was head of R&D at Volvo. "I'm still a technology nerd.

That's the reason why I wanted to be part of the DeepDrive experience and development." Poernbacher has big plans for the company, where he is one of seven founders (see box, above, right). He said DeepDrive expects to have its first signed contracts within the next year.

It aims to start small-scale production of its dual-rotor electric motor by 2026 followed by large-scale production two years later. "We aim to be profitable once large-scale production starts, so that would in 2028 or 29," he said. When asked about the company's products, the classic electric motors and in-wheel motors, Poernbacher was much more bullish about DeepDrive's business potential for the former than the latter.

"I don't think that by 2030 it will be more than 5 percent or maybe 10 percent of the market on the in-wheel side, but it's a very interesting segment that's coming up," Poernbacher said. He added that for both products the company's mantra is the same: create the highest efficiency at the lowest possible cost. He said that is possible because DeepDrive not only patented its product it also patented for how it is manufactured.

"We're not trying to get into the Ferraris of this world. We want large scale. So, within the first patent we applied for, we included a process on how to manufacture this motor at hundreds of thousands of units," he said. "We always thought this way because it's not that tough to build sexy prototypes.

It's really hard to build a series production product." Some of DeepDrive's advantages are that its electric motors use thinner magnets than those in the Model 3, lowering weight and costs, and its stator is built in segments that are stacked together resulting fewer off-cuts, further lowering material costs. As a result, the electric motor weights about 60 kg while a comparable solution is more than 100 kg.

In addition, Poernbacher said DeepDrive needs fewer manufacturing steps, which means its needs less time and fewer machines. As a result, while an electric motor with a gearbox from rivals costs 1,000 and 1,500 euros. "We can undercut that significantly.

We are up to 20 percent cheaper than that," Poernbacher said.

Poernbacher admits that DeepDrive success isn't all because of skill.

"We have been incredibly lucky from a timing perspective because all these new vehicle platforms will be decided over the next one to three years, creating a huge ramp up over the next 10 years," he said. "What we have been doing would not have worked 10 years ago."