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The race to automotive electrification: what it takes to win

Today’s electrified vehicles require up to 20x more power than internal combustion engines and Vicor power modules are the optimal solution.

EV charging image

By Patrick Wadden, Global Vice President of Automotive Business Development

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough” —Mario Andretti

For years, automakers have been continuously challenged with the need for more power. In the early days, cars were powered with a six-volt battery right up to the mid 1950s when automotive systems evolved to a 12V power source to meet the perpetual need for more power. Not only did automakers have to anticipate new power delivery demands for windows, steering and seats, but the need for more power was pivotal for the new high-compression engines.

In recent times, CO2 emission compliance standards have motivated OEMs to reconsider how to power the automobile again. While OEMs are introducing electrified vehicles to meet these standards, there has yet to emerge a harmonized approach for delivering electric power, not only to the motors but to all the subsystems in a vehicle.

This lack of clarity is compounded by the tremendous increase in power requirements.  Automobiles with combustion engines typically operate with an electric power level between 600W to 3kW. New electrified EV, HEV, PHEV vehicles (xEV) require power levels of 3kW to over 60kW – more than 5 – 20 times the power.

In addition to the major technical challenges, OEMs are also ratcheting up the pressure and making commitments to fully electrify their fleets over the next decade (Figure 1), even while the specifics of how to achieve the goal remains an open question. There is no clear path to standardizing electrification across the electric vehicle market. So while OEMs will likely all arrive at the same place, the PDNs they design will be different.

Diagram of auto electricity

Figure 1:  OEMs have set aggressive goals to electrify their fleets. These goals are catalysts for creating a world-class xEV platform.

That 5 – 20x increase puts tremendous strain on vehicles in terms of increased size, weight, and complexity of the power delivery network (PDN). These demands negatively impact energy efficiency, reliability and even comfort and safety as the added size and weight necessitate tradeoffs in vehicle features. There simply isn’t enough space to accommodate all the electrical requirements if car manufacturers proceed with traditional methods of power delivery.  To meet this challenge they will need to find a solution that is not only lightweight and compact to mitigate the enormous increase in power, but is also flexible and can be reused across the fleet.

Accelerating electrification

To achieve their aggressive electrification goals, OEMs will need to reconsider their approach to power delivery architectures. In addition to finding a highly efficient solution, to accelerate and optimize electrification three top requirements need to be addressed.

Power density

Whether designing a fast sports car, a light-duty truck or a family car, OEMs need to pack as much power as possible into a constrained space. Vehicles need compact and efficient power solutions.

Flexibility / Scalability

Fleets have many vehicles using the same platform, so easy power scaling is essential when modifying the power between sedans, minivans, SUVs, etc. that share the same platform.


To achieve full fleet electrification, OEMs need to be able to reuse power designs across different models to speed time-to-market.

Continue reading the full article on Embedded Computing Design on how Vicor is fueling the electrification momentum in the automotive industry.

Patrick Wadden joined Vicor in 2018 to head up the automotive Business Unit and to drive a new end market segment for Vicor. His experience in the semiconductor industry was spread across automotive, industrial, consumer and aerospace industries with a concentration in power electronics. Patrick previously held leadership roles in sales, marketing, product line and business unit management at Intersil, Altera, ADI and Integrated Device Technology. Patrick holds a BSBA in Management at Northeastern University and lives in NH with his wife and children.

Patrick Wadden

Patrick Wadden, Global Vice President of Automotive Business Development


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