Back in 2011, when key German auto OEMs BMW, Daimler, and Audi-Porsche-Volkswagen released a joint statement that they were keen on introducing a 48 v on-board power net as a supplementary power supply for high-power applications such as Electric Power Steering (EPS) and Heating, Ventilation & Air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. These OEMs were struggling to meet the emissions target for 2015 and beyond, and therefore reasoned out that migrating to 48 v will provide further reduction in carbon emissions. In the four years post that announcement, OEMs started offering abundant comfort and convenience features that were demanded by new-age, tech savvy consumers. However, in 2015, 48 v is no longer considered as a means to reduce emissions; in fact the need to migrate to 48 v arises due to the saturation of load level on a 12 v power-net. In hindsight, reducing emissions is merely a by-product of migrating to a dual voltage power-net.

Business Case for Dual Voltage and Opportunities

In the last 40 years, vehicle electrical power consumption has increased by more than 50% owing to comfort and convenience features offered to consumers. Continuous rise in electric power requirements for comfort, safety, and infotainment has made it imperative to look towards power alternatives that will suffice the need. The 12 v power-net can no longer sustain the electrical load of present day top-end vehicles. Any new addition to the electrical load will require an increase in power-net capacity, prompting OEMs to consider migrating to a 48 v dual-voltage power-net.

The need to better utilize energy will push OEMs to port certain powertrain and chassis application from present day 12 v battery power-net to a 48 v battery power-net in  near future. In particular, power intensive applications that are active throughout the operation time of the vehicle are expected to be ported first to 48 v. Less power intensive applications are expected to continue to be powered by a 12 v battery. Additionally, the 48 v power-net manages to reduce vehicle weight, thereby reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The single major obstacle that stands in the way of introducing dual-voltage power net is cost. With a whole new additional 48 v power-source and a battery of tests that need to be carried out for internal type-approval, the engineering overheads are rather overwhelming for OEMs to absorb. This cost may be partially offset, as consumers indicate a willingness to pay €1000 to avail performance boost across driving dynamics, comfort, and convenience in their next vehicle purchase. As the 48 v powered motors and actuators will be downsized, the impact on packaging and tail-pipe emissions shall complement the performance boost expected. Yet, the acceptance level of the business case for 48 v is still a much debated topic at the product planning divisions of various automakers, making the quick roll-out a challenge.

The Last Word

Despite a marginal delay in market introduction by some of the primary proponents of 48 v, the industry concurs that a move towards 48 v is eventually inevitable. Teething issues such as reliability, safety, and migration strategy are some of the challenges that will necessarily be overcome in the first wave of 48 v market launch. At the same time, pricing strategy for 48 v power-net will be a key determining factor for a successful migration.

Opportunities are abundantly available to increase the voltage levels in present day vehicles in order to supplement the ever-increasing electrical load. Hence, adoption of 48 v is no longer perceived as a technology to meet future

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