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Power struggles

Once the vision of the future, 42V electrics are being pushed aside by developments in hybrid engine technology. By Graham Pitcher.

Only a couple of years ago, the automotive industry seemed to be moving along a one way street towards 42V based electronics systems. Yet today, the move seems, at best, to be stalled and, in the view of some observers, dead.
The reasons put forward for 42V were, at the time, sound. When New Electronics discussed 42V systems in 1999, we said: “A typical luxury car is required to generate at least 1.2kW to power its systems. This figure is predicted to rise to 3kW, and even 7kW, by 2005.” We weren’t far out. A top of the range car today with all the electronics systems switched on probably draws something nearer to 10kW.
A further complication has been a move away from mechanical systems – steering, braking and so on – towards electrically operated replacements; the so called ‘by wire’ systems. However, a move to an electrically operated valve train – which would have needed 42V – is not likely to happen for some time now.
The move to 42V was an attempt to overcome Ohm’s Law – the more power drawn by electrical systems means more current flowing through the wiring loom. More current means thicker cables and therefore more weight – something car makers are trying to avoid. Increasing the voltage to 42V, however, would go some way to alleviating the problem.
So have car makers taken the 42V plunge yet? If not, when will they?
Steve Clemente is a senior technologist with International Rectifier’s automotive group. He said: “There was a lot of excitement about 42V electronics, but I think the topic is now on the back burner and may never come back.”

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Vanessa Knivett

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