Automakers Boosting Power of Onboard Chargers for EVs

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Volt is a technological triumph for GM, a company many wrote off. CEO Mary Barra, above, knows the auto business is a long-term game, and she has the hardware and the guts to play it successfully.

Most battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle automakers in Europe and the United States have onboard chargers with a power output between 3 to 3.7 kilowatts (kW). Now, these EV manufacturers are using onboard chargers with a power output greater than 6.6 kW to reduce charging time.

While high-end PHEVs are contributing to this trend, lower-end models in this segment are still using 3.7 kW onboard chargers. Consequently, onboard chargers with power ratings between 3 to 3.7 kW are expected to remain dominant, accounting for 62% of sales even in 2020. Charging time is important of course as a customer convenience factor in the struggling EV segment.

The latest analysis from consultancy Frost & Sullivan, Strategic Analysis of the U.S. and European Onboard Chargers Market (http://www.frost.com/m9da), says that sale volumes of onboard chargers stood at 304,683 units in 2014, but expected to reach 2,235,937 units in 2020.

More than 15 major companies supply onboard chargers globally, with Lear in dominant positions as suppliers for Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – the top-selling EVs in Europe and North America. All these companies offer isolated chargers and many including Bursa and Panasonic are investing in R&D to introduce non-isolated chargers.

“Currently, over 60% of components required to make onboard chargers are being outsourced due to high in-house manufacturing costs,” said Frost & Sullivan Automotive & Transportation Senior Research Analyst Prajyot Sathe. “Tier I suppliers in Europe and the U.S. have mainly been sourcing components such as electromagnetic interference filters, power factor controllers (PFCs), and direct current (DC)-DC converters from Tier II suppliers.”

While most suppliers have the expertise to manufacture components in-house, they have refrained from doing so due to low demand for onboard chargers. F&S says the big suppliers should manufacture DC-DC converters and PFCs themselves, as these components account for the maximum cost of onboard chargers and contribute to higher prices.

“To cope with the current scenario, major vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as are expected to adopt the component sharing strategy, which will drive production volumes and reduce the cost of components,” said Sathe. “Another strategy automakers could consider is entering strategic alliances to pool the technical expertise of partners and decrease manufacturing costs.”

By way of high-volume manufacturing and strategic partnerships, onboard charger suppliers in Europe and the U.S. will be able to lower the price of their products. While the current price of an onboard charger ranges from $130 to $230 per kW, prices are likely to fall by 20 to 25% within 2020.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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