Electric Architecture Advancements Must Meet Power Demand to Capitalize on Growth Opportunities - Is 48V a Solution for All Power Needs?

Car manufacturers are aiming to develop the 48v E/E (Electrical-Electronic) architecture to meet the growing need for more power, smoother operation of a connected and autonomous vehicle, and to support government-imposed emission norms, automakers are expected to upgrade the conventional power net.

  • Standardization will be a key challenge
  • First generation Bidirectional E/E architecture
  • Breathing space for conventional ICE vehicles
  • Standalone 48v architecture in the medium to long term

In the last decade, mechanically driven components were replaced by more efficient electronic counterparts such as electromechanical dampers, electric pumps, electric power steering systems, ADAS, heated seats, infotainment devices, heated windshields, and heated steering wheels. Numerous systems ran in tandem to support multiple applications in a vehicle. Furthermore, approximately 100 million lines of software code were run over 70 to 100 networked electronic control units, making vehicle operations more complicated. Thus it is expected that the launch of Level 3 and above autonomous vehicle will witness a massive surge in computing power, making vehicles more power hungry. The current high-end vehicle with conventional voltage architecture can have more than 4 km of wiring. This further increases the overall weight of the vehicle and exhausts the conventional 12v electrical power-net. This fact has made car manufacturers focus more on weight reduction and cost optimization. With the growing need for more power, smoother operation of a connected and autonomous vehicle, and to support government-imposed emission norms, automakers are expected to upgrade the conventional power net. To address this challenge, car manufacturers are aiming to develop the 48v E/E (Electrical-Electronic) architecture.

Thinner wires will be employed for higher voltage with small wire gauge. This will further reduce the cable size and make the wire harness lighter, resulting in total emission reduction and lighter vehicles. The migration from conventional E/E architecture to the upgraded E/E architecture needs to be commercially and economically viable. To meet the 2020 to 2025 emission norms and higher consumption needs for electric power, 48v is being accepted by the OEMs.

The real challenge is to migrate the existing systems and components to the 48v power-net. This massive migration will witness heavy investments associated with the entire ecosystem. The major obstacle for widespread adoption is its cost efficiency. The other challenge for widespread adoption is the power source. The industry is more inclined towards employing Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery as compared to the well-established options such as Lead acid and Nickel metal hydride. Li-ion battery will add several thousand to the vehicle price.

According to Automo analysis, the future vehicle will deploy bidirectional dual voltage E/E architecture, that is, a few components will run at 12v, while others will run at 48v. The 12v circuit will be retained in the short to medium term to avoid heavy investment across the entire ecosystem. The multi-voltage architecture is expected to be the best alternative for current power challenges and other economic reasons. This architecture will provide a necessary stimulus for an internal combustion engine and will also propel the growth of 48v technology.

The 48v first gen applications will support output load, climate control, start and stop, automatic door closures, power windows, roll stabilizers, suspension dampers, and compressors.

In a real-world test, a vehicle armed with 48v reduced the CO2 emission by 15%, that is, at 30% associated cost with respect to full hybrid, ICE based vehicles will witness 70% benefit. Thus, 48v will act as the stepping stone to drive the sales and meet the emission regulations stipulated by different governments. According to Automo analysis, before the automotive industry completely switches towards electric mobility, 48v technology can fill in the gap and will provide a breathing space for ICE enabled vehicles.

The change in the current political landscape, that is, trade wars, Brexit, and others, is as strong as the fear of war, terrorism, and natural disaster. This insecure geopolitical environment might hamper the industry efforts towards standardization.

Standardization is a major issue and dual voltage architecture will only attain success if the key components can be standardized. If the E/E architecture is not standardized, it will be considered as an expensive option, and ultimately diminish the market for 42v technology.

The industry is expected to completely migrate from 12v to 48v standalone E/E architecture in the medium to long term as the industry will evolve from conventional vehicles to autonomous vehicles. The key factor that will make the difference is the additional cost involved to employ standalone 48v E/E architecture. Thus, the industry is expected to steadily shift from dual voltage architecture to a single voltage architecture in the medium to long term.

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