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Every year, automotive manufacturers come out with something new - striking colors, sleek designs, novel enhancements and luxurious extras. But it is what's driving performance that is most innovative of all. Engineering technologies are making cars and their components faster and greener, with greater power, durability and maneuverability.
"Innovation is actually a process," says Bob Toth, Goodyear North America's director of new products and innovation. "We look at orthodoxies and ask why they are the way they are. We look at trends all over the world. We talk to consumers, and to all the constituents, looking for unfilled needs." The process works, he adds. "It's painful, it's tedious sometimes and it's challenging, but it does work."
While exotic and environmentally sensitive technologies like electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered fuel cells hold promise for the future, chances are they are years away from achieving economies of scale - probably decades away for fuel cells. In the meantime, gasoline-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius are becoming more and more mainstream. General Motors recently introduced the Chevrolet Volt, the first plug-in hybrid, which can use household current to recharge its battery. It also has a gasoline engine that improves its range between charge-ups. Nissan North America recently debuted the Nissan Leaf, the first all-electric vehicle designed to sell in mass - or at least larger - numbers.
Electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids will continue to play an increasing role, alongside more fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel engines. The internal combustion engine has the dual virtues of being familiar and relatively affordable.
There are a number of innovative technologies that are keeping the good old internal-combustion engine relevant and fuel-efficient. Some of the most amazing products ever produced by petroleum engineer are:
Start-stop - Instead of idling, the engine shuts off when you come to a stop. By some estimates, worldwide production of start-stop systems may quadruple in only five years (to 16 million in 2015). Start-stop is a common feature on hybrid cars, but it's about to make the jump to "regular" cars.
Turbocharging - An old concept that's been repurposed, a turbocharger forces more air, and therefore more oxygen, into the fuel-air mixture your car burns. The net effect is more power. In turn, that enables engine downsizing, for instance a four-cylinder engine in place of a V-6, while retaining the power of the V-6.
Direct-injection - Gasoline is shot directly into the engine's combustion chamber, using extremely high pressure, in computer-controlled squirts. Control is so precise, direct-injection engines can get multiple squirts for each single explosion. The result is more power, more complete burning and lower emissions for a given amount of fuel. Customer benefits include quieter operation and better mileage.
Clean diesels - Modern, clean-burning diesels employ both turbocharging and direct injection. Those technologies are now being put to work in gasoline engines as well. Diesels are far more popular in Europe, where fuel taxes keep diesel competitive with gasoline.
High-tech automatic transmissions - Baby Boomers need to unlearn one of the lessons from the '70s and '80s, which was that to get the best mileage, you have to give up the convenience of an automatic transmission and get a manual. Increasingly common six-speed automatics outperform manuals, for all but the most highly-skilled drivers.
Low-rolling resistance tires - Fuel savings aren't all under the hood. Tires heat up and waste a small amount of energy as they roll, which is lost in the form of heat. Low-rolling resistance tires reduce that energy loss. The new tires are standard on the recently introduced Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius. However, they're also coming into increasing use as standard equipment on conventionally powered cars like the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco and the 2010 Ford Fusion S.
Further doubts or queries feel to contact.
Counselor at Rajalakshmi Engineering College
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