Toward an Electric Two-Wheeled Triumph

As the TE-1 electric sportbike enters its next development phase, Williams Advanced Engineering’s technical boss talks about progress and challenges.

Aesthetics of the TE-1 will not be understated, as shown by this illustration of the prototype. The electric sportbike is said to incorporate innovations in battery technology, mass, and powertrain performance. (Triumph Motorcycles)

There is something of a TV series about Triumph Motorcycles’ radical TE-1 electric project. It’s an intriguing story unfolding through four episodes, or phases, following its conception. Phase 2 of what promises to be a significant addition to the motorcycle world recently concluded, with a further two phases to go. We’ll have to wait for all to be revealed in the last scenes but known targets for the electric sportbike include a range of 120 miles (193 km), curb weight of 485 lb (220 kg) and battery charge time of 0-80% in 20 minutes.

A TE-1 prototype main frame section with WAE liquid-cooled battery pack on display (at left), with one of the electric sportbike’s mass, package and performance benchmarks – a 2021 Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS – in the background. The 181-hp, three-cylinder Speed Triple weighs 437 lb wet. (Triumph Motorcycles)

The narrative of the TE-1 project is more of a how-they-are-doing-it documentary, rather than a who-dunnit mystery. Particular focus is on the all-new battery system developed by Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE). While the project remains commercially confidential, Triumph’s official communiqué on completion of Phase 2 was positive, particularly because work has progressed despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Key project milestones include test results showing significant innovation in overall mass, battery technology, and powertrain performance that exceed the target set  by the U.K. Automotive Council for 2025. The prototype traction motor has been bench tested and is said to meet required performance criteria.

The battery has also been bench-tested, achieving 170-kW peak power, 90-kW continuous power, and demonstrating 15kW-h capacity; Triumph’s targets specify 130kW of peak power and 80kW continuous power. With a liquid-cooled e-motor, SiC (silicon carbide) switching, increased energy density and package efficiency, advanced cell module specification and all-new battery management, the development thus far is encouraging to Triumph, WAE, and other partners WMG (at University of Warwick) and Integral Powertrain. The project has U.K. government backing.

Phase-2 prototype of the TE-1’s liquid-cooled traction motor. (Triumph Motorcycles)
Paul McNamara of Williams Advanced Engineering is confident the Triumph TE-1 will deliver greater performance and range regardless of operating conditions. (WAE)
TE-1 design illustration reveals cast-aluminum frame, battery and inverter location to optimize the bike’s mass center. (Triumph Motorcycles)
The TE-1’s power inverter is mounted integrally with the battery pack, low in the chassis. (Triumph Motorcycles)

Although TE-1 remains a hush-hush project, Paul McNamara, WAE’s Technical Director, discussed its raison d’être and basic requirements exclusively with SAE International. “The fundamental challenge when considering battery technology within any vehicle is one of making sure that for a given cost, the power, energy, mass and volume of the battery system, are each meeting the targets of the vehicle,” he said.

“That balance is made even more important for an electric motorbike due to the tighter packaging, system integration, and mass requirements to meet performance and range targets," McNamara added. “To maximize rider enjoyment, delivering the performance and range should not compromise the handling of the product and significant attention to detail on structural compliance — and center of gravity is also essential,” McNamara asserted.

Tackling drop-off performance

Asked what Williams' battery system for TE-1 could do that others may not, McNamara said that one of the key criticisms of existing technology is the significant drop-off in performance caused by very low ambient temperatures, excessive powertrain heat created by aggressive use, or lower state of battery charge.

“We have concentrated on ensuring that for a more sports-orientated product, the bike delivers greater performance and range regardless of operating conditions,” he said. “This is achieved by utilizing our next generation module technology, our state-of-the-art Integrated Battery Management System (IBMS) and thermal considerations.” He noted that WAE’s thermal-management expertise related to battery systems enabled engineers “to design and package a solution that is liquid cooled, with independent circuits for the battery and for the motor.” Thermodynamic simulation used for accurate cell modeling allowed the team to optimize cell-to-coolant heat transfer in designing the internal battery cooling circuit.

A combination of WAE’s battery management system with motorcycle control functions in a single package is a significant part of the TE-1 development work and was one of the project’s original design targets. Triumph and WAE regarded a combined unit to be essential for minimizing both weight and package requirements: “Why have two components when one can perform the same function?” asked McNamara. He explained that the Motorcycle Controller (MCC), integrated with the BMS and Triumph’s own motorcycle-control functions, optimizes power and energy management in a “refined” electric product.

To tackle the TE-1’s overall weight (a challenge across the electric motorcycle industry) and cost, the team employed a “holistic energy management” approach. McNamara said WAE’s next generation module technology deployed on TE-1, allowed a “significant” improvement in cell-to-pack mass ratio. “This, together with a view to maximize energy efficiency, has enabled a significant improvement in miles per kilowatt-hour than we currently see in the marketplace. It has allowed us to have a smaller battery that delivers on performance and will be cost-effective yet achieves a very impressive range figure,” which he has not yet divulged.

Motorsport packaging targets

With Phase 2 completed, McNamara discussed the challenges for TE-1 still ahead. “The levels of system integration into the packaging envelope have been significant but WAE is used to this from our motorsport projects,” he said. One area that surprised his team is the degree to which they were pushed by Triumph to optimize mass distribution. Precise, confidence-inspiring handling is a critical part of Triumph’s product DNA, he noted, “and their attention to detail towards optimizing the dynamics of the bike impressed and challenged us.” The integrated battery system is meeting “all class-leading” specification targets,” McNamara said. Next comes the bike’s testing phases, including “design validation and optimization of the control functions to maximize performance, efficiency, and range.”

Despite any possible pandemic effect, McNamara regards the first phases of the TE-1 project as demonstrating a successful collaborative engineering partnership. Relationships between the parties existed prior to the project, he noted, and were cemented during the early phases of the submission to the U.K. government for funding.

“We were able to put together a project delivery plan that really built on the strengths of each partner,” McNamara explained. “The project started well before the pandemic and this enabled the refinement of the communication together with the intended specification. The partners have adapted well to the challenges of COVID-19 and the project remains on track to hit all of its objectives.” Triumph fans and the burgeoning electric-motorcycle industry await the next chapters of the TE-1 story.