More hybrid cars mean less gas, so Bosch is making them easier to build

Bosch 48-Volt Hybrid VW Golf
20 years ago, a hybrid was a Toyota Prius – end of story. Over the past two decades, hybrid tech has spread all across the automotive spectrum, and it has taken on many different forms. One of the newest is the Bosch 48-volt hybrid system, which presents a different kind of hybrid theory, one that brings the industry one step closer to meeting the stringent emissions regulations looming on the horizon.

A 48-volt hybrid system presents numerous advantages over other types of gasoline-electric powertrains. Notably, it’s cheaper than a full hybrid system like the one used in the Prius, and it’s much easier to integrate into an existing drivetrain, even one not designed with electrification in mind. The downsides are that it adds cost and weight to a non-hybrid car.

Bosch’s system is compatible with virtually every type of car on the market today.

Its main component is an engine-driven motor-generator which replaces the alternator (if you’re in need of a refresher, the alternator is the cylindrical part that keeps your car’s battery topped up). In Bosch’s system, the motor-generator converts the kinetic energy generated during braking into electricity, and feeds it into a compact 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack. It also powers the conventional 12-volt system via a voltage converter. The result is lower fuel consumption, increased acceleration, and dramatic increases in overall efficiency.

The motor-generator is a little bit bigger than a conventional alternator, a Bosch engineer told us, but major packaging modifications are only required in extreme cases. The location of the battery pack – which weighs about 15 pounds – varies from car to car. It can be shoe-horned under the rear seat, hidden under the trunk floor, or mounted elsewhere. Highly modular, Bosch’s system is compatible with virtually every type of car on the market today.

Behind the wheel

We experienced the 48-volt technology on Bosch’s private test track in the heart of Germany. Our tester was a Volkswagen Golf-based prototype that looked fully stock save for stickers that denoted its experimental nature. Inside, a full-size Sony tablet attached to the dashboard provided information about how the four-cylinder and the electric motor were splitting powering duties. Of course, the software displayed on the tablet will be neatly integrated into the car’s dash-mounted touch screen when the technology reaches production.

Bosch 48-Volt Hybrid diagram

As we pull away from our parking spot, the only indication that we’re driving a 48-volt prototype and not a standard Golf TSI is that there is virtually no turbo lag. The engineer riding shotgun tells us that’s because the electric motor gives the four-cylinder extra kick at lower engine speeds. As we approach the first roundabout, we notice the regenerative braking isn’t as strong as we expected it to be; it’s not stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks aggressive like in a plug-in hybrid or in an electric vehicle.

We negotiate a few more roundabouts to appreciate the low-rpm boost before merging onto the faster part of the test track. Much to our surprise, the engine shut itself off at about 50 mph. Did it just die? Should we hit the big red “STOP” button on the center console and run? Nope, the coasting function simply kicked in.

The Golf is completely silent as it whisks along a downhill stretch of the track.

Charged with enough electricity, the 48-volt battery pack can power volt-devouring accessories such as the air conditioning, the heater, the electric power steering, and the engine’s cooling fan(s). There’s no need for the four-cylinder to continuously spin the alternator in order to generate electricity. Bosch took advantage of this by developing a coasting function that shuts the engine off when the driver’s foot is off the gas pedal, allowing the car to coast freely.

The Golf is completely silent as it whisks along a downhill stretch of the track. Better yet, it consumes absolutely no fuel and emits no emissions whatsoever. When the track flattens out, a simple tap of the gas pedal is all it takes to swiftly and smoothly fire the 1.4-liter TSI engine back to life. The tablet keeps track of the coasting distances, and what percentage of the trip was spent coasting. It’s neat if you’re into numbers and graphs, but even if you aren’t, the fuel savings will surely put a smile on your face.

While the coasting function is a hyper-miler’s wildest dream come true, the 48-volt system isn’t only about going easy on the ozone layer. When saving fuel isn’t the order of the day, the motor-generator teams up with the four-cylinder to provide an acceleration boost.

Bosch 48 volt prototype

Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

As we mentioned above, the improvement is most present at low engine speeds, when the turbocharger hasn’t spooled up yet and the engine relies solely on its puny, regulations-mandated displacement to move 3,000 lbs of metal. We imagine the effect is also perceptible when passing, though we didn’t get to try the technology on public roads. Out on a race track, an augmented e-boost effect could certainly help a car get back up to speed quickly after a sharp corner.

The battery pack is too small to power the car on its own at anything faster than a crawl. Bosch is also developing what it calls a 48-volt strong hybrid system capable of running on electricity alone at up to approximately 50 mph, but we’re told the technology is a little bit more expensive than the mild hybrid setup we tried out. Consequently, it’s better suited to bigger and spendier cars.

What’s next?

The brand-new Audi A8 will be available with a 48-volt hybrid system as soon as it goes on sale, but a mass market vehicle it is not. Bosch predicts the technology will trickle down to more affordable cars by the end of next year, and it will become downright common before the turn of the decade. Technology like the mild hybrid system has the potential to save the internal combustion engine from an untimely death.

The 48-volt system goes beyond saving fuel. Our cars are becoming increasingly high-tech with each model year, and the various sensors, cameras, radars, and redundant systems baked into semi-autonomous machines suck up a lot of electricity. The 48-volt hybrid system is a cost-efficient and straight-forward solution to keeping tomorrow’s cars juiced up as they drive themselves down the nation’s roads.

Cars

Tesla could show the electric pickup Elon Musk is dying to build in 2019

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself.
Cars

2020 Toyota Supra caught hiding in a trailer without a shred of camouflage

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Cars

2019 Ford Ranger saves fuel without sacrificing towing capacity

The 2019 Ford Ranger marks Ford's long-awaited return to the midsize truck segment, which has seen a resurgence lately. But will being late to the party make Ford's job more difficult?
Deals

The best Nintendo Switch deals and bundles for December 2018

Looking to score Nintendo's latest hybrid console? We've smoked out the best Nintendo Switch deals right here, including discounts on stand-alone consoles, as well as bundles that feature games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Cars

These winter-warrior cars will never leave you out in the cold

Snow can be an absolute pain if your vehicle isn't optimized to handle that sort of terrain. If brutal snowstorms are an annual part of your life, we recommend you pick up one of these winter-ready vehicles.
Cars

NYC mandates minimum wage for Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare drivers

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a rule that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must be paid at least minimum wage, even though they are independent contractors. The new pay rate includes operating costs.
Cars

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.
Cars

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.
Cars

Hertz speeds up car rentals with biometric scan technology

Biometric security technology that uses face, fingerprint, and voice recognition is gaining traction, with Hertz emerging as the latest company to incorporate it into its daily operations.
Product Review

Inside Maserati's Levante SUV beats the heart of a Ferrari

Maserati’s luxury SUV gets a shot in the arm by way of Ferrari-derived V8 power, but is it enough to go toe-to-toe with the established players in the high performance sport-utility segment? Let’s find out.
Mobile

McLaren puts the pedal to the metal in special-edition OnePlus 6T

The OnePlus 6T is yet another flagship killer smartphone, bringing powerful specifications to a much lower price than the competition. Now, OnePlus has teamed up with McLaren for the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition.