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MEDIA ARE filled with predictions of a personal-mobility future. It’s “Soon we’ll commute by helicopter!” all over again, and in as few as four more years.
Let’s get real.
Despite the hype from Google and such, there are complexities galore in autonomous cars. Indeed, the Department of Motor Vehicles in Google’s home state of California is considering special licensing for those using such vehicles. The Commerce Committee of the U.S. Senate heard the director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab say that self-driving cars are “absolutely not ready for widespread deployment.” At SimanaitisSays, I’ve brought up a few of the philosophical quandaries involved, the most recent item being “Where Are Self-Driving Cars Headed?”
But rather than beat this horse running off in all directions, I will share some real, beneficial and sensible automotive enhancements that are coming in the next few years. There’s no reason to be dismayed because they’re innovative indeed—and real.
Full-display rearview mirrors. A video image of the rear view has lots of benefits. Replacing conventional outside mirrors with miniature cameras reduces wind noise and drag, both particularly pesky at a car’s A-pillar location. The video image eliminates blind spots, has straightforward automatic dimming and, with a touch of a switch, can provide optional views.
Gentex, specializing in everything from military helmet systems to aluminized fabrics, already has Cadillac as its first customer for such mirrors.
Electric supercharging. The idea of forced induction through engine-driven superchargers or exhaust-driven turbos isn’t new. But turbo lag and parasitic loss of supercharging have been its inevitable tradeoffs. The idea of spinning the supercharger by the car’s own electricity has been tantalizing.
Hitherto, the payoff hasn’t balanced its electrical power requirements. However, French auto technology giant Valeo has perfected an electric supercharger that’s more efficient than an engine-driven one and doesn’t have exhaust turbo lag.
48-volt electrical systems. Valeo’s electric supercharger concept is compatible with conventional 12-volt electrics. However, it’s even more efficient with a 48-volt system. Again, nothing new: Higher voltage was proposed almost two decades ago to improve overall efficiency, just as it did with the automotive transition from 6 to 12 volts in the mid-1950s. A 48-volt system saves significant weight because of its lighter wiring harnesses. (For the same power, higher voltage means lower amperage, and it’s the latter that dictates wire gauge.) However, its development has been stymied by added costs of battery, generation and conversion.
Hybrids brought high voltage into the automotive realm, and costs have come down. What’s more, 48-volt systems could power today’s multiplicity of electronics, increasingly common stop-start systems, active suspensions—and electric supercharging.
Two 2017 luxury crossovers, the Audi SQ7 and Bentley Bentayga, will feature 48-volt electrics. The SQ7 has electric supercharging; the Bentayga, active suspension.
Crossovers. It seems like every automaker is rushing to bring out a crossover vehicle, many of them essentially sport utes sans the extra complexity, weight and cost of all-wheel drive. The Audi SQ7 and Bentley Bentyga will be joined by the Jaguar F-Pace, Maserati Levante and others. Europeans already have the Renault Captur and Citroën C4 Cactus. Even Rolls-Royce is considering one.
Honda was ahead of this fad with its Crosstour. Maybe the company’s timing was off, because Honda no longer produces this most sensibly-sized of crossover Accords. On the other hand, there’s pleasure in driving something different through a sea of Accords, Camrys, SUVs, pickups and the like.
The future is already here for me: This particular crossover satisfies my personal mobility to a T. And I’m okay driving it myself. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016