Zytek Automotive

Neil Cheeseman, Engineering Programme Manager, Zytek Automotive, states, “Science and Technology is what makes things work, but you have to sell things too, so you need design and creativity to sell them and make them desirable. You can have the best products in the world but if no one wants to buy them, then they are no use to anyone.

Zytek, employing 190 people, turns over between £20-25m, targeting 10% net margin, having been formed over 30 years ago as a high-tech engineering company producing drivetrains for vehicles. The company announced changes in its ownership in February 2014, affecting each of its three divisions.

  1. Zytek Automotive: producing electric and hybrid vehicle components and vehicle engineering with engine management development, application and calibration. This was 50% owned by Continental but, moving forward becomes 100% owned by this US business;
  2. Zytek Inc: was 50%-owned by Continental, becoming 100% controlled by that business, focussing on system applications and support for US customers, product development and durability testing activities.
  3. Zytek Engineering: focussing on motorsport activities, engine and chassis supply. This was 19% owned by Continental, but becomes 100% by entrepreneur, Bill Gibson.

Our work in producing electric engines has a long pedigree, having worked on Ayrton Senna’s electric racing car as far back as 1981.  Other collaborations have been with Aston Martin and Jaguar and producing Engine Management Systems (EMS) for Chrysler Viper, first and second generation vehicles,” says Neil Cheeseman, Programme Manager, Zytek Automotive.

“In the mid-1960s our then Chairman decided we needed to diversify into growth areas within automotive and we chose to move into hybrid electric vehicles as fuel concerns and air quality were, even then, emerging as key issues.”

Hybrids currently account for 20% of all vehicles made by Zytek and 40% of all vehicles sold in Japan.  “Hybrids can provide greater independence from oil sources,” says Neil Cheeseman. “The third hybrid to hit the road was made by Zytek – the Panoz 2000.

Hybrid systems were abandoned by Formula 1 in 2010, “but our experience in this area,” says Neil, “showed that a Midlands company can produce world-leading technology in a very short time.”

What makes up an Electric Drive System?

At their simplest they are composed of an inverter, battery and motor.  You cannot get away from the fact that batteries are always heavy, just as you cannot get away from the fact that oil is very practical.


“It is starting to get very inventive in this area and the UK is perceived as the leader in development of automotive systems for Electric Vehicles and Hybrid Electric Vehicles.  We have developed a motor for the Smart Car in Germany which is not the usual round shape and we are now able to cut segments out of the side, for example, to accommodate the driveshaft.


“IGBT inverters or motor control switches can conduct a lot of power – around 1000amps.  A plug can only conduct 13amps. But it is possible to mount an inverter anywhere on the motor.  We can make very small motors – less than the size of a shoe box.  We are able to shrink a lot of these technologies.

There are still opportunities for engineers to innovate.  The battery is a large collection of cells with management and cooling.  It’s quite a simple concept, but it can be eye-wateringly expensive because of the volume – 35kg – required for the hybrid system.  But all of this technology has been produced by Zytek for over 20 years. 

“We have been producing for Smart Cars since 1996 in a four phase development process.  Initially it was all about R&D and developing demo vehicles. In 2007 we were commissioned by Daimler to engineer and convert 100 smart cars for two people to be fit for three people in a three year UK field trial. In 2009 we were commissioned by Daimler to develop 2,500 Smart Cars as a ‘demo fleet’ for them for EU and USA use as an unlimited field trail.  We have been working with Daimler who are looking to produce an electric fleet. The drive system and the edge vac system have all been engineered by Zytek.  These are smaller than the Smart Cars we have worked on in the past.


In 2009, Zytek were awarded UK government funding to support, design and manufacture a brand new drivetrain for a small city electric vehicle comprising – Motor; Inverter (with integrated DCDC converter, charger & PDU); Gearbox and Battery. The project was targeted to produce a highly efficient, lightweight electric powertrain for use in a lightweight vehicle.  Following 18 months development, they produced a total electric powertrain system which weighed under half of that developed for use in previous electric vehicle programmes at 700kg.

Quadricycles are coming in Japan and these are using a KERS system.  Japan is seen as the home of hybrid technology.  However, Zytek, as a Midlands based business, is working with Honda and taking this technology to Japan. 

“The Honda Zytek car, the Super GT300, has regularly finished in top three race positions. Given our experience in this market with over 20 years in the UK and the Midlands, we are well placed to be building and making these technologies to sell all over the world.

In June 2014 Zytek concluded a deal at the Le Mans 24 Hour event with Russian team, SMP Racing, for the supply of racing engines for the 2015 World Endurance Championship (WEC) season using the Zytek/Nissan VK45DE engine, which powered the first and second placed LMP2 cars at the Le Mans 24 this year.

More recently, Jaguar Land Rover is leading a £16.3 million TSB-funded collaboration on the Evoque, on a project known as the Evoque_e, a  multi-partner collaborative R&D programme into advanced next-generation hybrid and electric powertrain technologies based on the Range Rover Evoque, with Zytek listed as one of the partners.

Eleven industry and university partners, commencing late 2013, are working to design, develop and build three unique research technology platforms configurable and compatible with the architectures of existing production vehicles – a mild hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a full battery-powered electric car. Working alongside Zytek are Williams Advanced Engineering, Delta Motorsport, Tata Steel, and the universities of Bristol, Cranfield and Newcastle.

“The outcome of the Evoque_e project will be new technologies with the potential for high volume production that are capable of delivering benchmark performance in terms of cost, weight and sustainable use of materials,” says JLR hybrid and electrification director, Peter Richings.

Project partners are incorporating single- and multi-speed axle drives, modular battery packs and integrated power electronics, advanced control development and torque vectoring technologies into the Evoque_e vehicles, while also investigating ways to improve the performance of electric motors and reduce the reliance of rare earth materials.