As a true lover of all things mechanical, I find the automobile to be one of the most fascinating things we humans have ever created. Now that the fallout from the auto industry crashing and burning has settled, you can begin to see the outline of the many good things which are yet to come. There are forward thinking trends all over the auto industry, and one of the hottest new car trends which I see evolving substantially during 2010 and beyond revolves around what goes on under the hood of our cars and trucks.
There is a lot of fringe activity within the auto industry on all things electric, with new batteries being developed, and many different flavors of new hybrid electric cars being designed, and quite a few hybrids being sold. It would appear that we are on the brink of a serious power plant design revolution. The standard system under the hood of most cars and trucks is a simple internal (or infernal if you don’t really love them) combustion engine. In light of the fierce competition to keep this older technology in place, and maintain it as a viable contender in future designs, automotive engineers have to work harder to squeeze every bit of energy out of the smallest engines ever. The task is only complicated in that it takes quite a lot of testing and design work to reinvent something this simple.
Lets face it, if the internal combustion engine is going to survive, then it is going to have to get in shape, and really start carrying its own weight. One truth is that these damn things are truly amazing, yet even after all the time they have been around, they are still an exceptionally inefficient machine. What the engineering world is now tasked with is to advance the basic technology of the modern gasoline engine, and propel it forward into the new millennium.
Manufacturers are going to be putting more of their engineering focus on the efficient use of fuels, and by focusing on squeezing the most out of smaller engines, the engineers are moving quickly towards corporate efficiency objectives, while still maintaining a reasonable level of performance. It appears to me that the auto engineers are finding that the simplest tricks might be the smartest way to achieve their efficiency goals. There are also federal emissions and efficiency mandates in place which the auto industry needs to keep ahead of, or there will be serious financial consequences for any manufacturer which falls short of these goals.
The primary trend which I have been watching and hearing about for quite a while now, has become all about which power plant is being put under the hood of our cars and trucks! For most new car models the newest trend is to design and build them with smaller more efficient engines, with a secondary objective of maintaining, or increasing the power output of these engines. With the upcoming technical enhancements, many of these smaller engines will operate near the same output of their larger predecessors. Auto engineers are accomplishing these complex design objectives by incorporating better electronic controls for their engines, and also by adding inventive new ways to operate critical mechanical parts of these engines.
One example of the heavy investment into this type of new technology is with a little car company called Fiat, which was recently merged with Chrysler. Fiat has pioneered a very unique internal combustion engine air intake control system dubbed “Multiair,” in which the intake and exhaust valves are controlled by a special solenoid valve system. This “electromechanical” system is one which varies the opening and duration of the intake and exhaust valves, and this gives the engine management systems more and finer control over the actual combustion process.
What this means to the consumer is that they now can adjust the engines efficiency and performance by simply adding a special solenoid valve with specific controls that adjust to your driving demands automatically. If you are aggressively mashing the throttle, then the valves will be opened wider and longer, giving the engine more fuel, therefore more power, and when idling, or at other times when low power is all you need, the solenoid will automatically adjust the valves for smooth yet ultra efficient engine operation.
Incorporating this control scheme into many of the newer engines means that Chrysler cars will now be on the road to recovery with respect to gaining better mileage and keeping similar performance that Chrysler customers have come to expect. Now if only they could do this amazing control thing on a 440 “Hemi” engine! or better yet, on my 1995 Jeep six cylinder engine. That is a retrofit that I would gladly install onto my older cars!
There are a handful of other upgrades which will accompany these newer engines, and one of the first places we will see rapid advancements in the next few years is in the transmissions and controls for them as well. Automotive engineers are working on ways to increase the efficiency of their transmissions, especially the automatics, since they are inherently inefficient. also the auto manufacturers are excited to add hot toys which will help squeeze maximum horsepower out of the engines by adding cool gadgets like turbochargers, which for example you could get on a tiny 4 cylinder engine in their PT Cruiser, this gave the car great fuel mileage in normal driving conditions, and yet some fairly impressive torque when you really needed it!
in summary the more important trends are not about which color pallet will be coming out at the car show this year, nor about which DVD TV system will be in the new minivans, but I believe that it will be more about efficiency and performance, and this will be achieved with new technology under the hood!
Thank you for reading my articles!