Automakers juice up cars’ electrical systems to add tech – USA TODAY

TROY, Mich. — It’s one thing to add more computers and sensors to cars to make them more fuel thrifty, capable of driving themselves, safer and to give them the latest infotainment systems. It’s another to figure out how to handle the extra juice those systems require.

That challenge to the auto industry is likely to be answered by a new breed of beefed-up electrical systems.

Auto supplier Delphi is showing off its new 48-volt electrical system, saying the technology is crucial for complying with emissions and fuel-economy standards and coping with the growing electrical needs of today’s vehicles. The extra juice would be added in addition to today’s 12-volt batteries.

Vehicles are starting to get 48-volt systems. Bentley’s new Bentayga SUV has one, which controls the computers and mechanisms that give it a remarkably smooth ride over almost any surface.

While Delphi hasn’t named the first two vehicles that will use its 48-volt system for the 2018 model year, Mary Gustanski, Delphi vice president of engineering and program management, on Monday showed slides of a Honda Civic with a 1.6-liter diesel engine, during a news conference with journalists at Delphi’s main U.S. research center in Troy, Mich. The diesel Civic is not sold in the U.S., and is unlikely to come here.

“This will be a key building block to close the gap between automakers’ current fuel economy and the targets they will have to meet by 2025,” Gustanski said.

Legislation that took effect in 2012 requires automakers in the U.S. to achieve an average across their new vehicle fleets of 54.5 miles per gallon. They will earn credit from sales of gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles.

Delphi sees 48-volt systems as a high-growth area. By 2025 the company projects that 12.5 million vehicles worldwide, or slightly more than 10% of global demand, will need the additional electrical power.

Fuel economy is a big factor, but so is the skyrocketing growth of computer processing power to handle the sensors, cameras, radar and robotics required to automate safety features within vehicles.

Today a new vehicle transmits data at the rate of 65 megabits per second, Gustanski said. By 2020, that will accelerate to 1.5 gigabits per second. One gigabit per second (Gbps) equals 1,000 Mbps

Delphi won’t make the batteries or the electrical motor/generator that helps start the vehicle’s engine. But it will write the software code that allows the increasing number of features and connections to function.

By integrating the batteries from another supplier with an electrical motor and Delphi’s own controls and software, Gustanski estimates it could reduce the cost of the more potent power system from between $1,000 and $1,200 per vehicle to between $600 and $720.

Demand is expected to grow faster in China, where the government can mandate the technology, and Europe, where carbon dioxide emission standards are very stringent, than in the U.S., Gustanki said.

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