IN A FEW years, consumers may be in for a shock when they look under the hood of their car. They'll see a 42-volt battery.
The present 12-volt system is no longer adequate to handle the huge electrical load of today's automobile, let alone what's coming.
The industry has agreed that 42 volts is proper for this next generation of vehicles.
Since it won't happen overnight, the 12-volt system will have to coexist with the new system while everyone switches over.
Renault says it will introduce a model with a dual-power system in 2004. It expects to switch com-pletely to 42 volts in 2007, when the components needed will be cost effective.
When the industry switched from six volts to 12 volts in the mid-1950s, the worldwide conversion took only a couple of years. That won't be the case this time.
Telephone manufacturers will have to offer power cords that switch back and forth from 12 volts to 42 volts, or they may have to offer two different voltages depending on the customer's requirement. The same goes for other companies that sell accessories that use power from a car.
The switch will also require changes in the way many businesses are conducted. When you consider how many products are affected by voltage, it's easy to see how expensive the changes will be. For example, everyone in the retail service business will have to buy new battery chargers.
The switch will mean a vast improvement in the performance of tomorrow's vehicles. But like other technological advances, it will have a price tag, and there will be some confusion.
Switching from six volts to 12 volts was a walk in the park compared to this challenge.