Continental has started producing 48V hybrid assist systems at its Nuremberg plant in Germany. Continental is electrifying one diesel variant of both the new Renault Scénic and Grand Scénic models.

The system, offered as a "Hybrid Assist" uses a 48-volt hybrid drive in production vehicles for the first time. Just three years after the start of the project, the location developed a modular manufacturing concept that it says it can use to manufacture "efficiently and in line with the cost structures of the volume market".

To do so, the supplier invested around EUR15m (US$15.647m) in new production equipment. Using the currently installed equipment, up to 200,000 vehicles can be furnished with 48-volt drives. A modular concept means that products for various automotive manufacturers can be produced with this equipment, the company says. The products differ in terms of their size, output or connections – for cooling, for instance. Location head Rainer Pühl points towards further growth potential: "The manufacturing concept is designed so that completely identical equipment can also be constructed in other regional markets at a later date, for instance in China or the US."

Fellow supplier Delphi has also said it sees much growth potential in 48-volt mild hybrid systems as OEMs look to meet tougher emissions and fuel economy standards at low cost. Small diesels could be replaced by the systems over the next five years, some analysts say.

Hybridisation with a 48-volt drive results in an especially favourable cost-benefit ratio. Although the continuous electrical output of six kilowatts is relatively low, it allows the system to recover the majority of the kinetic energy that would otherwise be converted into heat during braking. This reduces fuel consumption in the new European driving cycle by up to 13%. In real-world use – especially in cities – the savings are even higher thanks to the greater share of driving spent in energy recuperation phases, and can reach up to 21%. Rudolf Stark, head of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Business Unit, explains: "When industrialising the 48-volt systems, we closely coordinated the development of product and production processes from the start in order to ensure cost-effective production. This is necessary in order to bring large quantities of the technology to market. We expect good market penetration across all vehicle segments, from A to D."

"With the new 48-volt drive, we are combining decades of intensive experience in semiconductor technology with an entirely new motor concept here at the Nuremberg location. With our modular manufacturing concept, we can facilitate efficient manufacturing that is in line with the cost structures of the volume market," says Pühl.

In the longer term, growth in 48V hybrids is expected to take over as one of the key enablers for more efficient fleet average powertrain performance. just-auto's QUBE service estimates that 48V will have a relatively slow introduction, but that once future emissions legislation takes hold the market will go through very rapid growth and that by 2021 there will be over 5.8m 48V mild hybrid light vehicles on the road, globally (annual production in 2021 forecast at 2.3m units; 2016, around 150,000).