Epic EV drive from China to Western Europe

26th September 2019
Alex Lynn

AIWAYS has crossed the bridge from Asia to Europe on the latest stage of its 14,231km prototype engineering drive from China to Western Europe. A pair of prototype AIWAYS U5 battery-electric SUVs departed Xi’an in China on 17th July and, after 7,013km, the convoy crossed China and Kazakhstan, arriving in the city of Kazan in Russia.

The vehicles, which are nearing the end of a comprehensive test and development programme, are scheduled to complete their epic journey in early September, just in time for the IAA 2019 motor show in Frankfurt, Germany.

Alexander Klose, Executive VP Overseas Operation at AIWAYS, said: “This unprecedented drive is providing our engineers with a unique opportunity to fine-tune the U5 SUV before AIWAYS sales commence in Europe in 2020. With almost half the distance covered between Xi’an and Frankfurt, the engineering team has already crossed continents and tackled some very harsh driving conditions. This is all part of a rigorous programme to create a car which works for EV buyers everywhere.”

AIWAYS Chief Technical Officer Winter Wang added: “A comprehensive test and development programme for the U5 has prepared it well for this long-distance engineering drive. This has helped these two prototypes drive more than 7,000 kilometres without issue since mid-July, proving the quality of design and engineering work that has gone into the U5. The driving conditions across Kazakhstan have been challenging, but not insurmountable, and we are using findings from the drive to enhance the user-friendliness, performance and reliability of the U5 before it goes on sale.” 

The EV engineering drive has seen the convoy first tackle the Gobi Desert in northern China, following routes used for centuries by Silk Road traders into Kazakhstan, the bridge between Asia and Europe.

The vast open grasslands of the Kazakh Steppe have proved particularly challenging, with poor road surfaces and minimal electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Driving the U5 prototypes 1,500km across the world’s largest land-locked nation, the team of AIWAYS engineers found that around two-thirds of the route was on unfinished or broken roads.

The 65kWh battery pack powering each car is protected by a layer of steel plating, however, effectively shielding them from the very worst road conditions.

During the day, with the prototypes driven non-stop, in temperatures which have soared above 35˚C (95˚F) at times, the effectiveness of the battery pack’s heat management systems has also been tested and validated.

Kazakhstan might be a country famed for its oil production, but EV charging points are few in number. The prototype engineering drive has, however, proven that sufficient basic infrastructure exists to make EV charging a possibility for vehicles with a long-range battery pack. The AIWAYS convoy has been able to rely on electricity from hotels and service stations, keeping the battery packs topped up even in more rural regions.

Engineers on the drive have been in daily contact with the domestic AIWAYS engineering team in Shanghai. Being able to share data and diagnostic information means the software in each prototype can be tested and improved in real-time.

Proving the cross-continental compatibility of the all-electric U5 SUV, engineers have carried out frequent updates to the prototypes’ software throughout the drive to ensure maximum compatibility with different charging standards and voltages in different regions.

Having entered Russia at the border town of Troitsk, the U5 convoy will pass through Moscow and St Petersburg before entering Europe through Finland. The northernmost leg of the drive takes the prototypes above the Gulf of Bothnia, with scheduled stops in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, before entering Germany.

Once in western Europe, the cars will also visit Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Zurich, before a final drive over the Alps and back into Germany. The journey will end in front of the Frankfurt exhibition halls during the first week of September, shortly before the IAA (Frankfurt International Motor Show) opens its doors to the public.

The drive marks a significant stage of the development cycle for the new AIWAYS U5, giving engineers the chance to subject the car to a demanding, long-distance examination. Testing two vehicles on some of the world’s most demanding urban and rural roads will help AIWAYS evaluate quality and reliability, and determine optimal chassis settings.

The fully-electric ‘E-Drive’ powertrain, the most compact electric powertrain of any zero-emission vehicle, is one of the key areas which AIWAYS engineers are focused on. The drive is testing the battery pack and motor in challenging, evolving conditions, enabling the development team to monitor the powertrain, as well as its electrical control and heat management systems, in real-time. The data captured from the drive is allowing engineers to validate energy consumption in varying conditions, charging and fast-charging capabilities, and the vehicle’s low state-of-charge performance.

In addition, the U5 prototype’s multiple electrical systems are under intense scrutiny, ensuring that the production vehicle’s numerous safety, connectivity, powertrain and convenience features operate at their best. The U5’s braking, suspension and steering characteristics are being monitored and honed, with the drive taking the convoy through mountain regions and some of the hardest road conditions that owners might expect to encounter.

The U5 all-electric SUV is a statement of intent for the AIWAYS brand as it aims to bring affordable, connected and local zero-emissions family transport to the European market by April 2020.

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