Electric compressors drive efficiency in modern HVAC systems

Jan. 1, 2020
Demands for better fuel economy and reduced pollution are forcing automakers to develop lightweight electric systems with new refrigerants that better protect the ozone layer.

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are constantly changing, as demands for better fuel economy and reduced pollution force automakers to develop lightweight electric systems with new refrigerants that better protect the ozone layer.

The growth of hybrids and electric vehicles plays a key role in these advances, particularly for electric compressors that replace the belt-driven pumps still found on most all vehicles with a high-voltage electric motor.

Electric compressors operate independently from the engine, so they can cool the cabin space even when the vehicle is not moving. They were originally developed for hybrids to support the idle-stop function, but are also used for gasoline vehicles to reduce weight and enhance functionality.

Hybrids and expensive luxury cars represent the bulk of vehicles currently equipped with electric compressors. There are currently about 1.7 million hybrids driven in the United States.

However, electric compressors will become the new industry standard for vehicle climate control systems over the medium to long term. For some automakers, electrifying functions such as air-conditioning and power steering helps achieve new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. North American vehicle manufacturers by 2016 must increase the average mileage of their vehicles to 39 mpg for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks, up from current standards of 30.2 mpg for passenger cars and 24.1 mpg for light trucks in the 2011 model year.

As a result, demand for lighter parts that require less energy will drive adoption rates higher for electric compressors in the upcoming model years.

PAGE 2

DENSO and Visteon manufacture electric compressors for North American automakers, but they are only available in the aftermarket as dealer parts. It will be a decade or longer before prices fall and warehouse distributors and retailers in the independent aftermarket take note.

However, vehicle electrification will continue to drive the development of new HVAC systems that will eventually make their way into the aftermarket.

In addition to electric compressors, new powertrains are forcing automakers to develop heater components to keep the interior warm when the vehicle is in idle-stop. Idle-stop automatically switches the engine off but keeps accessories such as climate control and the radio running when a car is idling.

However, this configuration requires a computerized pump not found on most automobiles to circulate coolant through the heater core when the vehicle comes to a stop.

Ford and Hyundai/Kia are among the major vehicle manufacturers that have announced intentions to offer idle-stop as a fuel-saving feature on more models over the next five years. That means more service technicians will soon encounter the new “helper” pump, particularly those specializing in late-model vehicles.

PAGE 3

As with other vehicle systems, climate control will become increasingly computerized. Parts and service providers must begin to familiarize themselves with these new components to effectively maintain modern HVAC systems.

Stephen Spivey is a Program Leader for Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation research practice. He focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies, and market behavior in the automotive aftermarket in the United States and Canada.

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are constantly changing, as demands for better fuel economy and reduced pollution force automakers to develop lightweight electric systems with new refrigerants that better protect the ozone layer.

The growth of hybrids and electric vehicles plays a key role in these advances, particularly for electric compressors that replace the belt-driven pumps still found on most all vehicles with a high-voltage electric motor.

Electric compressors operate independently from the engine, so they can cool the cabin space even when the vehicle is not moving. They were originally developed for hybrids to support the idle-stop function, but are also used for gasoline vehicles to reduce weight and enhance functionality.

Hybrids and expensive luxury cars represent the bulk of vehicles currently equipped with electric compressors. There are currently about 1.7 million hybrids driven in the United States.

However, electric compressors will become the new industry standard for vehicle climate control systems over the medium to long term. For some automakers, electrifying functions such as air-conditioning and power steering helps achieve new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. North American vehicle manufacturers by 2016 must increase the average mileage of their vehicles to 39 mpg for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks, up from current standards of 30.2 mpg for passenger cars and 24.1 mpg for light trucks in the 2011 model year.

As a result, demand for lighter parts that require less energy will drive adoption rates higher for electric compressors in the upcoming model years.

PAGE 2

DENSO and Visteon manufacture electric compressors for North American automakers, but they are only available in the aftermarket as dealer parts. It will be a decade or longer before prices fall and warehouse distributors and retailers in the independent aftermarket take note.

However, vehicle electrification will continue to drive the development of new HVAC systems that will eventually make their way into the aftermarket.

In addition to electric compressors, new powertrains are forcing automakers to develop heater components to keep the interior warm when the vehicle is in idle-stop. Idle-stop automatically switches the engine off but keeps accessories such as climate control and the radio running when a car is idling.

However, this configuration requires a computerized pump not found on most automobiles to circulate coolant through the heater core when the vehicle comes to a stop.

Ford and Hyundai/Kia are among the major vehicle manufacturers that have announced intentions to offer idle-stop as a fuel-saving feature on more models over the next five years. That means more service technicians will soon encounter the new “helper” pump, particularly those specializing in late-model vehicles.

PAGE 3

As with other vehicle systems, climate control will become increasingly computerized. Parts and service providers must begin to familiarize themselves with these new components to effectively maintain modern HVAC systems.

Stephen Spivey is a Program Leader for Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation research practice. He focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies, and market behavior in the automotive aftermarket in the United States and Canada.

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