Powertrain evolution shaped by consumer wants, OEM needs

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  By Tom Watson
  VP and Technical Fellow Powertrain, Johnson Controls

Automakers considering advanced powertrain technologies have to balance consumer expectations, regulatory requirements and manufacturing costs. Here’s a quick look at how low-voltage electrification (12-volt and 48-volt systems) can help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) meet competing demands to deliver a compelling, compliant, cost-effective vehicle.

Compelling to consumers
Let’s start with what consumers want – and, more specifically, what they’ll pay for. A 2016 JD Power list of the 10 most important factors in a vehicle purchase decision puts fuel economy at No. 7, tied with safety. So will consumers accept the additional costs associated with powertrain technologies that increase fuel efficiency?

Boston Consulting Group found that 56 percent of U.S. consumers aren’t willing to pay extra up front. In China, where fuel shortages regularly make headlines, 53 percent said they would pay more upfront, but they expect to recoup that cost over the life of the vehicle.

Not surprisingly, the willingness to pay for advanced powertrain technologies and fuel efficiency rises and falls with fuel prices. In the United States, for example, hybrid electric vehicle sales go up when gasoline costs more.
Not surprisingly, the willingness to pay for advanced powertrain technologies and fuel efficiency rises and falls with fuel prices. In the United States, for example, hybrid electric vehicle sales go up when gasoline costs more.

Compliant with regulations
Along with enticing consumers, automakers must satisfy regulators. That includes improving fuel economy to reduce CO2 emissions and meet increasingly stringent targets.

The cost of this compliance typically exceeds what the consumer is willing to pay. However, consumers will pay for comfort, connectivity and safety features--enabling automakers to offset a portion of compliance costs.

Cost-effective for manufacturers
Finally, manufacturers must manage the economics of vehicle technology. They can’t afford to overspend on powertrains. OEMs seek cost-effective powertrain technology that includes a reliable energy storage solution to ensure a seamless customer experience.

The tipping point: Low-voltage technology
Low-voltage electrification, combined with other powertrain and vehicle technologies, delivers the benefits that help OEMs balance consumer, compliance and cost demands. It offers:

  • A familiar architecture that supports increasing electrical loads for emissions systems, active safety systems and user experience features
  • Incremental fuel efficiencies that meet regulatory requirements in the majority of the market
  • Affordability that can trigger significant mass adoption

 A 48-volt system, paired with a rugged absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery, is the next logical step for OEMs considering powertrain evolution. And Johnson Controls is on a leading path in developing the next generation of low-voltage electrification, aligning with automaker needs to meet consumer demands. 

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