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Delphi unveils 48-volt mild hybrid technology

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Delphi Automotive PLC is betting that 48-volt mild hybrid technology will be the next big trend in vehicle electrification.

The Gillingham, U.K.-based supplier said Wednesday it’s working with two automakers to put the technology into production within 18 months. The feature uses a 48-volt electric battery to achieve up to 15 percent better fuel economy and 25 percent better low-end torque on gas and diesel vehicles, which equals more power.

Its essentially the lowest amount of electrification available on a vehicle, as opposed to full hybrids or plug-ins such as the Chevrolet Volt, which can run only on its battery for a limited range. By contrast, 48-volt hybrids simply augment the car’s gas or diesel engine by capturing the energy used when the vehicle brakes, then re-directing that energy to produce more power and lower the load on the internal combustion engine.

Delphi argues it’s a relatively-cheap technology that is more fuel efficient and delivers better performance than the hybrid technology available now. The 48-volt hybrids would cost automakers about $1,000-$2,000 for each vehicle.

Delphi on Wednesday demonstrated the technology on a 1.6-liter diesel Honda Civic. Automotive research firm IHS estimates 48-volt hybrid technology — a nearly nonexistent market today — will explode to 11 million vehicles a year by 2025. Roughly 500,000 total hybrids were sold in 2014, according to the Department of Transportation.

“This is not only a significant step forward with reinventing the electrical architecture for dual voltage capability, it is also a triumph of software,” Jeff Owens, Delphi’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “This intelligent approach to vehicle power, wiring and data management will not only improve fuel efficiency, but will also enable a world-class driving experience while providing additional power for active safety systems and increased connectivity in the car.”

Delphi says that 11 million 48-volt hybrids would reduce global oil consumption by 4 billion gallons during the life of the fleet, which typically take about a decade to turn over.

The technology will play a key role, Delphi says, as automakers are forced to meet federal fuel mandates of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The supplier has recently introduced other technologies, including an advanced cylinder deactivation system, that also could help raise automakers’ averages.

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