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Chrysler, Kettering collaborate on alternators

by Bill Cawthon on

Chrysler has entered into an eight-month contract with Kettering University’s Advanced Power Electronics Lab to develop a new alternator.

Dr. Kevin Bai, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and post-doctoral student Chen Duan are researching a high-efficiency 2.5 kilowatt alternator for electric vehicles, to allow batteries to be charged with both more power and efficiency.

Bai and his assistants are developing an electric alternator that would reach 95% efficiency; currently, the most efficient alternators are at  92%, and the average efficiency is in the 85%-90% range. None of the alternators currently on the market have a power of 2.5 kilowatts.

“The first challenge is high powered, the second is high efficiency,” Bai said. “Chrysler asked us to design our electric alternator for their electric vehicles. Right now, they have a DOE project to equip 200-300 electric vehicles with this electric alternator.”

Bai said that he and Chrysler are hoping to have a patent by the end of this project on a product that can be installed in electric vehicles.

Kettering University is the successor to the General Motors Institute; it was renamed to honor Charles Kettering, one of the pioneers of GM research, in 1998. Kettering is often associated with the development of leaded fuel to facilitate the use of high-compression engines; the latter were, ironically, first launched in production vehicles by Maxwell Motors, in the 1924 Chrysler.

Chrysler Corporation was instrumental in the development of alternators for mainstream passenger cars, becoming the first company to make them standard. Chrysler’s key contribution, patented by the company and Glenn Farison, was using diodes to convert the alternating current to direct current, and preventing the battery from turning the alternator into a motor when the alternator wasn’t generating power. Alternators were more reliable than generators, more efficient, and capable of generating substantially more power.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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