Special Coverage

Convergence

DETROIT – While many auto makers and suppliers continue to finetune advanced powertrains and battery systems for their upcoming plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles, Lear Corp. is forging ahead with onboard charging systems that connect these new cars and trucks to national power grids.

Highlighting the company's display of wiring and power-distribution products, such as smart junction boxes, audio amplifiers and body electronics, officials on hand at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here say the new charging units aim to broaden Lear's electrical portfolio and position it for the pending growth of alternative-power solutions.

“Lear has established itself as an early leader in this new and growing category with several business awards beginning with '11 model -ear production,” says Bill Mattingly, vice president-global engineering, noting two of the contracts in that timeframe are with auto makers in North America and one is in Europe.

Lear also currently supplies Chrysler LLC with high-voltage wires for use in the '09 Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen Hybrids.

Most auto makers prefer to keep in-house the development of their advanced EV powertrains, so as to properly define the personality of the vehicle within their brands, Mattingly says.

However, they're happy to have the power-distribution and charging elements handled by a third party because of the scope of coordinating with various power utilities and the resulting standards that likely will be imposed.

Lear's charging units are scalable in size and output (from 1 kW to 6 kW) and can accommodate both nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries. They also are compatible with wall sockets rated up to 440 volts.

“This product acts as the gateway connecting the consumer electrical grid and high-power automotive systems to achieve vast improvements in both the operating cost and efficiency of future vehicles,” Mattingly says.

“Lear brings industry leading expertise to this unique connection involving both automotive validation standards and consumer electronic codes, such as the National Electric Code and Underwriter's Laboratory requirements.”

Lear says the chargers work by enhancing the efficiency of a wall socket's alternating current and then converting it to a direct current of electricity, after which it is boosted up to about 340 volts before entering the battery.

Compared with a conventional hybrid-electric vehicle, the PHEV/EV system only adds the battery charging unit and its connection to the battery's power controller, as well as the external plug-in socket.

While standard, overnight trickle charging likely will be used most often, the technology is robust enough to handle the higher amperages of quick charging (one or two hours) via a DC-to-DC power source, says Mohamad Zeidan, director and chief technology officer-advanced electrical/electronic systems and components.

Compatibility with various electrical interfaces around the world also are included, Zeidan says, adding Lear is working on several new technologies that will allow energy utilities to recognize certain users when they charge up remotely and bill their home accounts accordingly.

Mattingly admits the time of day when charging takes place will have the greatest impact on energy costs and drain to the grid (nighttime will be the least expensive). However, he says there should not be a short-term issue with overall energy supply in the U.S., as it likely will take some time for enough PHEVs and EVs to be sold before they are a significant draw of energy.

msutton@wardsauto.com