Clarios Sees Low-Voltage Electricals as Vital in EV, AV Future

There won’t be any reason to ditch the 12-volt battery just yet, at least until new multi-voltage batteries arrive.

The Clarios booth at AAPEX 2023. (Clarios)

In an increasingly electrified world, there’s still a need for 12-volt batteries and a low-voltage electrical architecture in vehicles. Clarios, which provides the low-voltage architecture for around a third of all vehicles in the world, sees room to grow in the electrified future. Connected vehicles, for example, bring new expectations for what a low-voltage system has to provide, including higher electrical loads. This energy is used for OTA updates when the car is not running, for example, or powering larger infotainment screens.

Clarios expects the auto industry to rely on low-voltage systems no matter how powerful traction batteries get. (Clarios)

SAE Media spoke with Clarios president and CEO Mark Wallace and Federico Morales-Zimmermann, group vice president and general manager of original equipment, during a roundtable discussion with multiple journalists. The following Q&A from that event has been edited for clarity.

Q: Why do we need the 12-volt battery in a BEV?

Morales-Zimmermann: It’s less a technical question. It’s more of a safety question. If you have to shut down the high voltage, you have to be able to continue critical safety functions, like being able to call somebody from your car.

Clarios group vice president and general manager of original equipment, Federico Morales-Zimmermann, speaks during IAA 2023. (J. Kyle Keener)

Wallace: If there is a problem with high-voltage batteries and they get shut down for safety reasons, the low-voltage network now needs to provide steering, braking, etc., for the consumer to get the vehicle safely off the road. You can imagine what that means in an autonomous situation. You have to keep computers up and running. Also, when you go and plug your car in and charge it, those high-voltage traction batteries have to get disconnected for safety reasons. The low-voltage network does all that.

Q: Clarios is working on multi-output voltage batteries in addition to new chemistries such as sodium-ion. Is this trying to cover your bases?

Morales-Zimmermann: This goes beyond covering our bases to being able to use those chemistries in a meaningful way. Sodium-ion provides, from a supply chain perspective, great benefits, because you’re independent of lithium. You also aren’t dependent upon the same Asia supply base, so you can derisk your supply base. These are important things to do. And it seems to be a very feasible solution for the low-voltage space. We are working very closely together with a partner who has been developing a sodium-ion cell. We have the first samples in place, measurement looks great, and we’re going to be [working] more on the packaging side and the specifics of the electronics.

Clarios president and CEO Mark Wallace addressses journalists during IAA 2023. (J. Kyle Keener)

Multi-voltage devices are basically where you have not only one voltage solution but you have multiple voltage solutions. Within one battery, you will have 12-volt, 24-volt, and 48-volt [systems]. Depending on the needs of the architecture, whether they be chassis solutions or infotainment or autonomous driving, you can scale the the voltage accordingly. There, also, we are working with partners in the space to be able to integrate the solution into a system solution.

Q: Are you working on solid-state batteries?

Wallace: I think a lot of people are working on it. The advantages you get are you don’t have a liquid electrolyte, it will tend to be safer and you can charge it faster. There are definitely some advantages, but I still think we’re five to 10 years away from actually having an application.

Morales-Zimmermann: We are investing in sodium ion, and we are investigating solid state as a high-energy-density cell, which would be more applicable for high-voltage applications. I think there’s a lot of work to be done to be able to apply this in the automotive side, because of all the temperature needs of this chemistry. Nonetheless, if solid-state would apply to us, we are chemistry agnostic, so we could apply any chemistry to this application. Whether solid-state is the right application for us, I think, is a second question. I would see it more on the high-voltage side.