Tremec makes its move to electrification with an 800-hp electric drive unit
No supplier — at least ones that want to remain in business — is going to be untouched by the shift to electric powertrains. And that includes Tremec, the 59-year-old company whose manual transmissions and dual-clutch gearboxes make many of the world’s muscle cars, supercars and semitrucks roll.
Tremec recently turned its engineers loose on developing an electric drive unit designed to be a direct replacement for a gasoline powertrain in a sports car, such as a Chevrolet Corvette or a McLaren.
I visited Tremec’s plant in suburban Detroit last week to take a look at the lightweight, compact drive unit that is about the size of a duffel bag.
The twin-motor electric drive unit can crank out as much as 800 hp and help deliver a top speed of around 186 mph. The EDU weighs just 243 pounds. A typical supercar’s powertrain would easily weigh twice as much.
Matt Memmer, Tremec’s director of global engineering and program management, told me the amount of time he is spending on electrification has increased by a factor of 10 in the last two years — and this is at a company that makes manual gearboxes for Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Tremec also makes the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission for the Chevrolet Corvette, and a DCT for Maserati.
“We’ve created an advanced engineering team to focus on electrification,” Memmer said. “We’re putting more and more people into that group.”
Tremec views this move into electrified powertrains as a crucial next step in its evolution. Although the company could remain profitable for the foreseeable future by supplying manual transmissions to automakers and the hot rod industry and by selling dual-clutch transmissions to trucking companies, Memmer said Tremec is looking to grow, not just maintain its current market share.
Tremec makes around 300,000 light-duty transmissions annually, along with 80,000 medium and heavy-duty gearboxes. The company also makes around 10,000 dual-clutch transmissions and around 2 million components such as gears and shafts.
“Dual-clutch transmissions represented a massive step-change for us,” Memmer said. “It was a huge step in terms of complexity. The electric drive unit will do the same thing.”
Massive power density was a top priority for the EDU. Tremec engineers used surface-mounted permanent magnet motors, which are compact and can deliver extreme performance, such as long runs at high rpm. They also designed a very compact gearset and the ability for the EDU to deliver torque vectoring. That helps sports cars handle better under duress — such as when cornering at high speeds — by varying the power set to each wheel. The power electronics are mounted on top of the EDU.
But perhaps the most appealing aspect of Tremec’s EDU for automakers is that it can be installed in a sports car without engineers having to rework the vehicle’s architecture.
“What we’ve tried to do is allow for manufacturers, who already have their vehicle designed with all the electronics, to be able to take out the existing drive unit and drop ours in without having to add space just to get more power,” Memmer said.
For sure, Tremec is not alone in creating a drop-in, high-performance electric drivetrain. In addition to established competitors, many new companies are trying to break into the market.
Memmer believes that Tremec’s reputation can help the company open doors at automakers, but it will take more than that for the EDU and other electrified powertrains coming to be successful.
Tremec plans to have the new EDU ready for demonstrations to manufacturers this year. And production could start within three years.
“We’ve still got to prove ourselves in electrification, just like we did in our other products,” Memmer said. “It helps to have a name that’s well known, but it’s up to us to prove it in the electrification space.”
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