An Australian-owned company claims it will be the first to demonstrate a fully-functioning vehicle with an independently powered 42-volt electrical system, at the Detroit motor show in January.

Aria Power Products (APP) is developing the modified Ford Lincoln Navigator to demonstrate an automotive auxiliary power unit (AAPU) that could play a leading role in the forthcoming global uprating of car electrical systems from 12 to 42 volts.

APP has sub-contracted UK company Prodrive, best known for boosting the performance of Subaru’s Impreza, to fit the engine/generator APU into the Ford and integrate it into the car’s electrical storage and distribution, fuel and emission reduction systems.

APP is a joint venture between Sydney company CMC Power Systems and California designer and concept vehicle developer Aria Group.

The car will have two engines: the standard Ford 5.4 litre V8 under the bonnet, and an Australian-designed 500cc engine coupled to a generator fitted under the rear of the vehicle to supply electrical power.

The AAPU, about the size of a fruit box and, at 42 kilograms, light enough to be lifted by one person, is being fitted into the space around the spare wheel well under the rear of the SUV.

Aria Power Products project director Paul Kasperowicz said the Detroit Motor Show was the world’s most influential forum for automotive product innovation, and the Australian dual-engine technology would be made available to all major motor manufacturers and component suppliers.

“We believe the auxiliary power unit will be just what car makers are looking for to help them make the transition from 12 to 42 volts,” he said.

“It is the most advanced product of its kind, combining CMC’s unique high-efficiency internal combustion engine with a specially-tailored permanent magnet generator and an electronic control system.”

CMC’s Australian-developed internal combustion engine is based on a unique crank mechanism which involves rigid conrods. The layout of the conrods enables a smaller, smoother engine with less friction, more efficient combustion, fewer moving parts and lower manufacturing cost.

The permanent magnet generators are best suited to operating at constant speed, which is the way the AAPU has been designed – the PMG delivers 95% efficiency compared with only 50-60% for normal generators operating at variable speeds.

Kasperowicz said the change from 12 to 42 volts was already under way, with the world’s first 42-volt vehicle, a Toyota Crown powered from the main engine, already released, and reports that the BMW 7 series and Audi 8 are likely to follow later this year.

“The change is happening at the top end of the market, but will cascade through to the rest over the next 10 years,” he said.

“The analysts Standard and Poors have estimated that global production of 42-volt cars will rise from 50,000 this year to three million by 2006 – with 13 million, about a quarter of the 55 million new cars produced annually world-wide, by the end of the decade.

“Our AAPU will demonstrate that substantial fuel savings can be achieved by having two engines – the primary engine to turn the wheels and a secondary engine to generate 42-volt electricity to run all the car’s other systems, such as the water pump, power steering and air conditioning.”

Kasperowicz said two engines can be more efficient than one because the main engine can be stripped of all the ‘parasitic’ functions at present driven by belts, which have traditionally wasted large amounts of power because they have to be geared to always operate as if under maximum load.

In today’s cars, at least 20% of the engine power is ‘locked away’ to provide auxiliary power, no matter what speed the car is doing.

“Car makers will be very drawn to any technology that allows them to deliver all the power from the main engine to the wheels, and dole out power to the auxiliary functions precisely as needed,” Kasperowicz added.

“Freeing up the main engine is the equivalent of getting at least 20% better performance from an engine of a given size – for instance, a two litre engine freed of belt driven devices will give the performance of a 2.4 litre engine weighed down with all those auxiliary functions.

“We estimate the value to car makers of this extra performance at about $2,000 per vehicle.”

The move to 42-volt power is also being driven by proposed new technologies such as electric brakes, steer-by-wire, rapid window de-icing, electromagnetically actuated valves, active suspensions and hermetically sealed air conditioning which have high electrical loads that are difficult if not impossible to satisfy with 12 volts.

Computer devices and safety sensors, such as cameras that trigger air bag release, need higher quality and reliability than 12 volts can supply, and 42 volts can also heat the catalytic converter in the car’s exhaust system, so it will be hot enough to oxidise the exhaust gases at the first turn of the engine, reducing total emissions considerably.

The APP combination of a high-efficiency engine with a high-efficiency generator is claimed to be a low-cost option for vehicle manufacturers, requiring little development or capital expenditure because of its generic or ‘plug in/drop in’ nature.

APP is confident that by this time next year it will be mass-producing its units for production vehicles.