Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2013

The Changing World of Automotive Technology

Introduction

The purpose of this Blog is to describe changes in automotive technology during the last 100+ years, and to describe the new technology I obtained through purchase of a new automobile.

In the last decade alone there have been major innovations in how cars operate, how cars look, and how cars are to be driven. There have been major changes in the safety aspects of driving, engine design and performance. There are now more specialized entertainment packages, more conveniences, options, and better fuel economy along with great safety innovations such as a wide angle back-up camera.  The whole history of automotive technology has, frankly, altered our culture and is continuing to do so.

Over time our car manuals have become not only much larger, but now there are supplemental quick learning guides on operation, navigation packages, and those that describe the radio in  detail such as Bluetooth, Satellite, Entune and regular AM/FM radio.

Automotive sales consultants don’t just sell cars anymore; they undergo extensive training in order to understand every innovative “nook and cranny” in this modern technological world that pertains to improvements in automobiles today. Such changes to the modern automobile are mind-boggling as every driver tries to keep up with all these changes in car technology.

Connections

It’s been ten years since I bought my wife a car, a shiny brand new 2003 Nissan Altima. And, the last car I bought for myself was a used 2003 Mazda minivan back in 2005, with only 17,500 miles on it.

Both automobiles served us well during the time since purchase. However, in August 2013 we bought two brand new cars within two weeks of each other, replacing them with our proverbial trade-ins.

We now spend a lot of time pouring over manuals and quick reference guides to learn how to get the most out of our new vehicles. My wife owns a brand new Super White Toyota Prius V Hybrid (electric and gasoline engine) that we were told would get 52 miles to the gallon. So far it is getting 44 miles to the gallon, but we are happy with that.

The difference in stated versus actual fuel economy standards isn’t all commercial hype. Our driving environment is different too, including more hills and grades in our particular driving environment.

I had lower expectations for fuel economy where my own new car was concerned.  I bought a Super White 2013 Toyota Sienna XLE van with all the “bells and whistles” which had a reputed 18 City/25 Hwy reported fuel standard.

Before getting to an explanation as to how our new car’s technology has changed in complexity, as well as more convenience, I’d like to give the reader a quick look back at automotive innovation since the first cars came off the assembly lines more than 100+ years ago. As Bob Dillon once said, “The times they are a-changing.”

Dan Carney, an msnbc contributor wrote an article called, “Ten Leaps Forward in Car Technology.”

“English physicist, mathematician and astronomer Sir Isaac Newton once famously wrote — with perhaps a touch of false modesty — that “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Thus has the car industry incrementally improved from its primordial horseless carriage beginnings to the magic carpet ride of today’s almost incomprehensibly complex machines with their raft of safety, environmental and convenience devices adding to the basic transportation function.”

Following are 10 of the car industry’s most important technological changes. According to Dan Carney the ten leaps include:

  • ·Explainer: Ten leaps forward in car technology

The 1886 Benz

“It all began with Karl Benz and his construction of a self-propelled, three-wheel vehicle powered by a single-cylinder 0.75-horsepower engine using a leather belt and two bicycle chains to transmit power to the rear wheels.”

However modest this beginning, with its exposed engine parts and whirling bits menacing anyone who examines it too closely, the 1886 Benz launched the industry and was the foundation of today esteemed Mercedes-Benz brand. (Maybe the leather upholstery was an early clue to the company’s luxury intent?).”

The 1912 Cadillac with electric starter

“The electric starter — invented by Charles Kettering at his Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (Delco) in 1911 — became standard equipment on Cadillac’s in 1912, paving the way for all cars to feature electric starters. This accelerated the industry standardization of gasoline internal combustion engines over steam and electric designs. It also put more women behind the wheels of cars because prior to the electric starter they tended to avoid using difficult-to-start, hand-cranked cars.”

 

The 1914 Ford Model T

“Introduced in 1908, the Model T was just another low-end car from the multitude of regional manufacturers in this country. In 1914 Ford separated itself from its rivals and became (for a while) the world’s largest industrial concern as the result of the Model T’s assembly switching from small teams of craftsmen assembling each car to a moving assembly line of unskilled workers, each contributing the same small bit to every car on the line. Construction time to build each car plunged from 12 hours and 30 minutes to 93 minutes, and the car’s price fell from $690 to $360, while annual sales mushroomed almost ten-fold, and Ford doubled workers’ salaries to $5 a day.”

The 1930 Motorola car radio

“Next time a boom car rattles your windows at a stop light, think back to the days before Paul and Joseph Galvin developed the first commercially available car radio in 1930.

The Motorola car radio overcame a host of challenges, including electrical interference, finding space in the car for the bulky radio components and making the radio durable enough to survive the pounding of primitive roads. The popular 5T71 radio debuted at the Radio Manufacturers Association convention in Atlantic City, N.J., following a demonstration drive from Chicago to prove its durability.”

 

The Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic transmission

“Today few new cars are sold in the U.S. with a manual transmission, and a dwindling portion of the population even knows how to use one. We can credit this dismal state of affairs to the invention of the automatic transmission and its debut in the 1940 Oldsmobile.

The original Hydra-Matic automatic transmission offered benefits in terms of efficiency that surpassed subsequent designs, but that approach was abandoned in pursuit of smoother gear changes which were more important to drivers. The company touted the ability to navigate stop-and-go traffic and to park without stalling the engine as the automatic’s primary benefits, and those features continue to drive the technology’s appeal today.”

 

The 1946 Michelin radial tire

“Until Michelin developed the radial, tire design had evolved little from the dawn of the car industry. The radial moniker refers to the direction of the reinforcing belts, which are turned perpendicular rather than running parallel to the direction of travel as in bias-ply designs.

The benefits include a more stable footprint, reduced fuel consumption, longer tread life and better handling. The near-absence of any kind of maintenance or attention required led the government to mandate tire pressure monitors in cars because drivers had long since stopped checking the condition of their tires.”

 

The 1959 Volvo three-point seat belt

“Volvo’s Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seatbelt in 1959.

English physicist, mathematician and astronomer Sir Isaac Newton once famously wrote — with perhaps a touch of false modesty — that “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Thus has the car industry incrementally improved from its primordial horseless carriage beginnings to the magic carpet ride of today’s almost incomprehensibly complex machines with their raft of safety, environmental and convenience devices adding to the basic transportation function.

 

The 1972 General Motors air bag

“While air bags didn’t become commonplace in cars until the 1990s, GM conducted a large field test of 1,000 1972 Chevrolet Impalas equipped with experimental air bags. Between 1974 and 1976 the company offered the world’s first production air bags in its cars, with the first appearing in a 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado. Though the company was prepared to build 100,000 air bag-equipped cars a year, only 10,321 were sold over three years despite a reasonable price of between $180 and $300 for the option.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety confirmed the robust construction of the early system by testing two of the old cars in the 1990s. Neither car ran and,  not even the radio and clock didn’t work in one, but the air bags still deployed perfectly in the institute’s crash lab.

“What’s important to remember at this point is that the air bags GM put into those early cars worked fine,” wrote IIHS president Brian O’Neill in a 1993 letter to the New York Times.”

 

The 1995 BMW and Mercedes-Benz electronic stability

“These premium carmakers battled to be the first to introduce an electronic stability control system that automatically stabilizes a car in the event of a slide. Though these expensive V-12 models were the first to feature stability control, they quickly verified the technology’s value with significant reductions in crashes. Subsequent studies showed that stability control-equipped cars are about one-third less likely to suffer a fatal crash, a result that encouraged the U.S. government to mandate stability control for all cars starting in model year 2012. The real safety advantage of stability control is that in contrast to seat belts and air bags, which mitigate the damage that occurs in a crash, stability control prevents many crashes from happening in the first place.”

 

The 1996 OnStar telematics

“In our increasingly connected wireless world, the notion that the car should connect to a network over which it can share information may seem like an obvious development. But it was less obvious in 1996 when GM’s OnStar division was launched, using analog cellular telephone technology to send information to drivers and to automatically report crashes.

Today other carmakers have their own telematics services and each month OnStar is now responding to 2,300 crashes, 10,000 requests for emergency assistance and nearly 30,000 requests for roadside assistance.”

 

Today’s Technology and Car Buying

All of the changes in automobile technology bring us to 2013. It must be remembered when car-shopping that many technological changes and packages you might want depend on whether the particular model you’re looking at has them. Not surprisingly, the higher the model (and price) the more likely you are to get advanced technology or special comfort items and/or conveniences.

Always review the sticker on a new car being offered for sale, as it will tell you what options are available on that particular automobile. Sometimes, the same model may vary as to their options as well, because individual cars differ beyond the obvious model differences in color.

The most precise way to get what you want is to specify your exact needs (exterior color, interior color like gray, beige, or black, packages, or other options, etc.) in a car, and then order it from the manufacturer through your local dealership. With that understanding, I want to describe now some of the most interesting technological features that makes today’s cars so spectacular.

I can’t describe the entire universe of changes because there are so many different cars on the road today. So, I will describe a large number (but not all) technological changes on my most recent purchase, a Super White 2013 Toyota Sienna 3.5L FWD 8 PSGR XLE model (there were five models from the basic L, followed by the LE, SE, XLE, and finally, the top of the line Limited). In terms of technological advances my car is not unlike other Toyotas including my wife’s new 2013 Toyota Prius V.

I will first describe what was on the sticker, and then describe selected major option packages in some detail. A sticker should describe what is Standard and   Optional Equipment on that particular vehicle. This provides you with the maximum opportunity to decide whether any of the optional equipment is worth the additional cost. If expensive options aren’t for you, then it’s best to look at the lower models in a series for any particular car.

The Sticker

Fuel Economy is rated overall at 21 (18 City/25 Highway)

Standard Equipment

Mechanical and Performance

My Toyota Sienna includes a 3.5 DOHC 24-valve WT-1 V6 with 6-Spd Electronically Controlled Auto Overdrive Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-1)

Electric Power Steering

Power-assisted Ventilated Front and Rear Disc Brakes with Star Safety System

17” 7-spoke Alloy wheels with P235/60R 17 Tires.

Safety and Convenience

Star Safety System and Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control and Traction

Anti-Lock Braking System

Electronic Brake Force Distribution

Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology

3-point seat belts with ALR & ELR Pass Belts

Advanced Air Bag System

Seat-mounted Side Air Bags and 3-row Side Curtain Airbags, Driver’s Knee Airbag, and (one I think is cool) —the Energy Absorbing Collapsible Steering Column

Reinforced Steel Unitized Body

LATCH (Lwr with Anchors & Tethers for children for Outboard 2nd Row & 3rd Row Center Seats

Child-Protector Sliding Door Locks

 

Exterior

Dual Power Sliding Doors & Power Lift gate

Power Tilt/Slide Moon roof.

 

Interior

Cruise Control and eco Driving Indicator

3.5 inch Multi-info Backup Camera

Leather 8-way Power Captain’s Chairs

4-Way Power Pass Captain’s Chair

Heated Front Seats with Adjustable Temp Control

Removable 2nd Row Captain’s Chairs

Stowable Center Seat, Tip Up and Long Slide

Leatherette 60/40 Split & Stow 3rd Row TM

Tri-Zone Climate Control with individual Temperature Settings & Rear Control Panel

AM/FM /MP3 CD Player, 6 Speakers, SXM with 90 Day Trial, Aux Audio Jack, USB Port, Auto Sound Leveling, Bluetooth Wireless

Power Windows with Automatic Up/Down

A Full Tank of Gas 

 

Optional Equipment

50 State Emissions

XLE Navigation Package with Entune

Smart Key Entry on all Doors and Push Button Start and Remote Illuminated Entry

Chrome Accented Outside Door Handles with Touch-Sensor Lock/Unlock Feature

Rear Parking Assist Sensor

Display Navigation with Entune Including 6.1 in. High Resolution Touch-Screen with Split-Screen Capability and Integrated Backup Camera Display

AM/FM CD Player with MP3/WMA Playback Capability, 6 Speakers, Sirius XM Radio Capability. Additional Hardware and Subscription  Required for Sirius XM.

HD Radio with iTunes Tagging

Auxiliary Audio Jack

USB Port with iPod Connectivity and Control

Hands-Free Phone Capability

Phone Book Access

Advanced Voice Recognition and Music Streaming via Bluetooth Wireless Technology

Roof Rack Cross Bars

Carpet Floor Mates/Door Sill Protector

XLE Navigation and Entune Option

The most important reason I had when buying a car this year was to acquire a back-up camera. With three grandchildren I wanted to prevent any tragedies involving” lack of visibility.” The backup camera came with the XLE model as optional equipment. However one of the priciest options at $1,735 was the XLE Navigation package with Entune.

To my way of thinking about modern automotive technology, the money was well spent to acquire the Navigation Package with Entune. Why? Because of the following capabilities: Entune provides a collection of popular mobile applications and data services integrated with select Toyota vehicles. It included three years of complimentary access to apps and services delivered via most smartphones. Once the phone is connected to the vehicle using Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable, Entune’s features are operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Entune contains mobile apps for Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, Open Table and Pandora.

The navigation part of the package has many different aspects. The basic operations include: North-up or Compass Mode Icon One would touch to change the map display between North-up or Head-up perspectives. There is a Map Button that accesses radio, destination, setup, media, apps, traffic incidents and map data. There is a Map Button which repeats the last voice guidance prompt to cancel the map scrolling feature, start guidance, or display the current position. There is also a ZOOM IN/ZOOM OUT Icons to magnify or reduce the map scale. And there is a CURRENT VEHICLE POSITION Mark that indicates the current position of the vehicle and its directional heading.

There are many more functions to the navigation package. Whether you’re a man or a woman in a car, everybody gets lost in unfamiliar settings, neighborhoods, etc. If you get lost (like in Los Angeles) and want to go home or back to your motel, you can use the map system to take you from where you are to where you want to be. Fifteen years ago, at night, I once got lost in San Diego trying to find my way back to the motel I was staying at after a long day at a Conference I was attending. This was not fun! I wish back then I had had such a navigation system in my car. Life would have been a lot less stressful. As I said before, this was money well spent.

Post Script

I hope you enjoyed this brief “look-see” at the changing world of automotive technology. Nissan says it will have the very first driverless cars by 2020. Who am I to question that prognostication given what spectacular feats the automotive industry has come up with during the last 100+ years?

If you are now in the market for a car—do your research before you buy. Always negotiate and be aware that dealers have hold-backs of their own. The bottom line when negotiating—you are in control of the entire process not the dealer. Why? If you don’t like the deal, you can always get up and walk out.  Most dealerships are very buyer-friendly these days. Be reasonable and be polite. They really do want you to be satisfied with your purchase. Good will and friendliness goes a long way, not only for dealerships, but for you as well.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »