Musk shares Tesla 48V architecture with competitors
Opening up could spur “domino effect” for whole industry, but integrated manufacturers could have an immediate advantage
Elon Musk, CEO of EV market leader Tesla, has shared his company’s design for a 48V bus system with rival automakers, in a move that could herald greater collaboration between OEMs in EV technology innovation. Tesla has been working to implement 48V architecture for some time, but has only now launched it in its newly released Cybertruck.
An automotive bus system is an electronic communications system which transmits messages to operate hundreds of electrical components in a vehicle, such as steering, windows, and lights. It is distinct from the electronics involved in the battery of an EV.
A higher voltage architecture allows a lower current to transfer the same amount of power, thereby reducing the dissipation of energy and making the vehicle more efficient, lighter, and less resource-reliant.
“As you raise the voltage you can drop the thickness of the wires. In a nutshell, you can use much less copper and the wire harness weighs much less as you raise the voltage,” Musk explained in an interview at Tesla’s Texas gigafactory on Wednesday.
This is an opportunity for significant savings on production costs for OEMs through a reduction in metal content for wires for electrical systems.
“By switching from a 12V architecture to a 48V one, I estimate that Tesla reduced the Cybertruck’s copper content by 100lbs, saving $320 per vehicle, and will start a domino effect across the auto industry that could significantly reduce global copper demand,” explains Xander Johnson, EV charging consultant and former Tesla sales and operations advisor.
It was first reported that Tesla would be sharing the designs for its 48V architecture last week, but Detroit giant Ford’s CEO Jim Farley on Thursday confirmed the receipt of the plans on X, formerly Twitter, calling it “great for the industry”.
“[It is] great to read the document and realise that our next-gen team has been on a similar path. Let us work together to help the supply base move into the 48V future as well,” Farley later said, signalling that Ford is targeting a move to a 48V bus system as well.
But it will be steep challenge for other OEMs to adopt a different architecture, even with the blueprint provided by Tesla.
“It is very difficult to change the bus voltage rom 12V to 48V because all of the peripheral items that connect to it have to interface with 48V [and] there are hundreds of things that interface with the low voltage bus,” Musk said on Wednesday.
“The entire supply chain, the entire production architecture, is set for 12V, which is why it has been stuck at this absurdly low number for a long time,” he added.
This makes it likely that more vertically integrated OEMs will install the 48V system first, as they are able to redesign their own components to fit the new architecture.
“I suspect automakers and suppliers are looking into the technology and the next automaker to implement this will be BYD who, like Tesla, manufactures many of its components, so it does not have to wait on suppliers,” Johnson suggests.
As such, Tesla may not stand to lose any competitive edge it gains from being one of the first OEMs to transfer to 48V, since it could be a matter of years before rivals can roll out 48V-enabled EVs and cash in on the cost savings. However, many in the industry are hopeful that Tesla’s openness, as in the case of the firm opening up its charging network, will lift up EV makers across the market and spur on greater adoption.
“Musk's decision to openly disseminate technical insights aims to expedite the industry-wide adoption of 48V systems. The focus here is on the efficiency and responsiveness these systems bring,” notes Peter Fuezek, director of Munich-based firm Digital Charging Solutions.
“This move emphasises collaboration in an industry traditionally marked by competition. It is important to note that while competitive dynamics still play a role, they now serve as a driving force for substantial progress of the entire automotive industry,” Fuezek adds.