Advent of 42-volt systems ushers in new era for automotive manufacturers

Persistently high conversion costs have deterred European automakers from converting to 42-volt systems, but a new study by Frost & Sullivan suggests that a sweeping new trend is underway.

The implementation of 42-volt systems in European automobiles has experienced numerous delays in recent years. The initial enthusiasm amongst early proponents of the technology may have slightly waned in light of the growing realisation of the persistently high conversion costs, however, a new study by Frost & Sullivan believes that a sweeping new trend is underway.

The revolution of the modern-day car is imminent, spearheaded by the conversion from conventional 14-volt power generation and distribution system to a new 42-volt architecture, Frost & Sullivan’s latest findings reveal.

Pioneering the shift towards a 42-volt standard, car manufacturers and component suppliers are joining forces to establish standards and guidelines for 42-volt technology. The high degree of interconnectivity of the diverse components as well as the substantial development costs prompt these parties to forge strategic alliances and embark on joint ventures.

Organisations such as the MIT Consortium, SAE 42V Advisory Committee and Bordnetzforum fulfil a valuable function in facilitating the transition of automobiles from 14- to 42-volt batteries, the study adds.

‘Presently deemed cost-prohibitive, new design features associated with 42-volt systems must offer benefits commensurate with the price level charged. The switch to 42-volts requires significant changes to the electrical system of the car, but with all the risks involved, vehicle manufacturers are reluctant to lead this initiative,’ said Peter Bowlus, Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

‘They may have played a pivotal role in the development of the underlying technology, but the philosophy of most vehicle manufacturers remains to wait until real demand for these systems will lead to greater economic viability. Though carmakers are likely to try to push 14-volts as far as they can (the use of technologies such as liquid-cooled alternators being just one example), the migration to 42-volts will ultimately become unavoidable,’ added Mr Bowlus.

Once the first systems have been implemented, and some experience has been gained on this virtually untrodden ground, the market will experience a notable increase in the uptake of 42-volts. In 2008, around five per cent of vehicles will be using 42-volt technology, Frost & Sullivan projects. By 2012, up to 20 per cent are expected to feature 42-volt systems. This figure is projected to climb to 40 per cent of vehicles by the end of the forecast period in 2015.

‘Most vehicle manufacturers are set to introduce their 42-volt vehicles in 2008, however, the market will witness the arrival of 42-volt vehicles on the automotive stage even before then. Audi has already introduced vehicles with a limited 42-volt application for windscreen heating, while PSA is expected to introduce its 42-volt vehicles in 2003. Furthermore, a number of 42-volt sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are expected to penetrate the market over the next few years, launched by prominent motor companies such as Ford,’ the author reports.

The impending fuel consumption and emissions regulations will spark a change in the mindset of market contenders. According to the directives, which will be enforced in 2008, European vehicle manufacturers must reduce average emissions of carbon dioxide from 180 to 140 grammes. This means a reduction in average consumption from 7.6 to 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.

In addition to the increasingly power-hungry applications and growing end-user appetite for increasingly sophisticated comfort, convenience and safety features, demand for increased power enabled by 42-volt systems is further being driven by its proven green credentials. Environmental benefits can be yielded from greater fuel economy, reduced exhaust emissions, and the elimination of hydraulic fluids.

Crankshaft starter-alternators will enter the spotlight as the preferred technology for 42-volt applications. In 2010, over 5 per cent of starters and alternators are expected to be crankshaft-mounted, and this is expected to rise to 27 per cent by 2015.

Companies boasting a broad spectrum of products will be in pole position to judge the development of 42-volt systems and exploit emerging opportunities, benefiting from their expertise in assessing the interaction of the complete system.

‘The transition to 42-volt will probably feature ever-increasing interconnectivity and interdependence of these systems. As volumes increase, companies which can offer standardised solutions and can afford to make the necessarily high investments into R&D and development will, in all likelihood, prosper,’ Mr Bowlus said.

The importance of bringing 42-volts to market early, and before widespread uptake and commercialisation of the technology occurs, is stressed as a key competitive differentiator in Frost & Sullivan’s study.

Furthermore, the transition to 42-volt electrical systems will enable the implementation of new value-added vehicular systems. These newly emergent opportunities augur particularly well for companies that are not current suppliers to the automotive industry. By developing unique and innovative products, systems manufacturers can entice automakers to look outside their established supplier base, the study concludes.

Source: Frost & Sullivan