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Power Supplies in Automotive 42- volt Systems . A Mirage or a Reality?
by G.V.Suryanarayana Raju, Research Analyst, Frost & Sullivan

A constantly stagnating power supplies market of switching power supplies had been hoping that the 42-Volt electrical systems in automotive applications would give them a required scope for expansion and growth. However, it has been a long and agonizing wait for them as the  concept still remains in the laboratories and design centers for close to five years. A large number of power supplies are still part of the current  day automotive electrical systems in the form of ATX power supplies and power management integrated circuits, but the module power  supplies are still rarely used. Though the current  automotive applications still offer a huge demand potential for power supplies, the module power supply vendors have set their eyes on the emergence of the 42-Volt systems. With the automotive end-user segment, the power supply
manufacturers are facing the bane of being at the lower end of the value chain in developing the automotive electrical systems. They have been waiting for positive signs from the automotive vendors towards the deployment of the new 42-Volt electrical system, which does not seem to be happening at present after a vociferous start during 2000. After five years, the vendors today have realized the lack of efforts from the end-users and therefore are refraining from spending any resources on the development of the market.

Need to Invent

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Starting 2000, the total industry was fully inspired towards the development of the 42-Volt electrical systems market. The successful shift from 6 Volts to 12 Volts fifty years ago had also added a lot to the market expectation in the form of precedence. Electronic content and stronger emphasis on environment conservation contributed to the evolution of the automotive industry leading to the collective suggestion of 42-Volt systems as the perfect solution. The 42 Volts was technically offering numerous
advantages over the current 14-Volt system and those included:

. Higher efficiency in the electrical systems

. Better fuel efficiency

. Reduced weight of system

. Reduced emissions

A False Start for the Power Supply Vendors

With the advantages so attractive, it triggered a huge wave of excitement and expectation in the power supply vendors, for whom this was the saving grace in a mature power supplies market growing at a meager rate of 4 to 6 percent annually. A new applications market is always the dream of vendors in the mature market. And an emergence of such a market would lead to a net expansion in the demand rather than a shift in demand, as is the case with new standards and new technologies. The initial versions of the 42-Volt electric designs provided a scope for the power supply vendors to offer a bidirectional converter that would be used to interconnect the alternatorstarter to the remaining system. As the system was being developed, the first hurdle was the retention of the legacy electrical systems that had components designed for 14 Volts.
To overcome this hurdle, the industry decided to develop an intermediary electrical system that would be a combination of the 42 Volt and 14 Volts systems so as to retain  the older components. This system would offer the vendors an additional sale of the 42 to 14-Volt converter to the automotive end-user. With high hopes on the 42-Volt market, people initiated a wave of design and development of power supply modules that are to be used in the automobile. Few of the initiatives in this field included:

. Larger vendors mobilizing their R&D resources, while the smaller vendors collaborated with the research institutions to develop the suitable product design.

. Industry-institution collaboration focusing its efforts towards achieving an efficient solution.

. Research coming out with numerous designs and topologies and also a few organizations developing design software for these products. However, the industry had overlooked the hurdles that it would have to overcome before there could be a successful deployment. And it was a complete risk averse approach adopted
by both the end-users (automotive manufacturers) and the system developers, who were waiting for each other to make the first move.

Hurdles to the system

Unfortunately, the people who mattered the most, i.e., auto manufacturers and automotive electrical and electronic system designers, did not make the necessary moves towards this goal. There were major deployment issues that really hindered the development of the 42-Volt market. Few of the hurdles faced include:

. Synchronization and collaboration of all the value chain players (component suppliers) to fall in place with the 42-Volt electric system with their products. The deployment of the 42-Volt systems meant complete reassemble of the automotive systems. Every element or component that would get into the system had to be compatible with the 42-Volt ratings.

. Higher cost of completely revamping the system to 42 Volts. To install the 42-Volt systems, the automotive vendors needed to turnover the current 12 Volts systems into a 42-Volt systems. This involved cost in terms of altering the manufacturing and assembling process of a vehicle which could lead to huge capital costs.

. Shift in focus from the automotive manufacturers towards the development of hybrid vehicles and turbo diesel vehicles. Even though the new 42 Volts is the inevitable perfect solution for the changing electrical needs of the automobiles, it does not offer the most economic solution. With a highly competitive automotive market, vendors are looking at more economical new developments like the hybrid vehicles and turbo diesel vehicles. As a result, there has been reducing investments and focus on the 42 Volt systems.

Mirage to Oasis

Even with the lack of efforts towards the commercial deployment of the 42 Volt systems, the suppliers are equipped with the necessary designs and technology that would be handy once there is a turnover in the market with the new system. It has been a long wait, but with the trend of increasing electronic and electrical loads in automotive, the 42-Volt design seems to be an inevitable solution. However, it still remains a mystery regarding when it is going to be completely deployed. For better penetration of the new systems, the automotive manufacturers need to do their part of investment in development and deployment of the system. As of now, the various value chain
participants in the development of the 42-Volt system feel that the inevitable deployment will reach a significant level two years down the line. Once the market actually starts to slowly develop and deploy the 42-Volts in automotive applications, this mirage will turn into reality presenting a sea of opportunities for the power supply vendors. And as the power supply vendors are on their  marks with the relevant know-how and technologies, the signal from the automotive end-users is what will get them to sprint.

Frost & Sullivan, a global growth consulting company, has been partnering with clients to support the development of innovative strategies for more than 40 years. The  ompany.s industry expertise integrates growth consulting, growth partnership services, and corporate management training to identify and develop opportunities. Frost & Sullivan serves an extensive clientele that includes Global 1000 companies, emerging companies, and the investment community by providing comprehensive industry coverage that reflects a unique global perspective and combines ongoing analysis of markets, technologies, econometrics, and demographics. For more information, visit www.frost.com or contact Trisha Bradley at [email protected]

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