The Amazing Advances in Automobile Technology - What Initiated It?

This is the first of a series of articles that highlights the almost unbelievable advances that have occurred in the past 10 years in automobile technology. It will focus on what were the driving forces behind this.

In the 1990's one had the feeling that there could not be any more advances in the technology in automobiles, development had reached its zenith. However ever increasing pressure by governments, the looming scarcity of fuels and other clean air legislation have forced the engineers to develop more efficient cars and engines.

Advances in engine efficiency the last few years have been quite mind boggling. Manufacturers such as VW/Audi, BMW and Mercedes regularly quote fuel savings of 20%, 25% and even 30% on new engines and cars that replace previous ones. This nearly sounds like the typical talk of snake oil salesman. I specifically mention these manufacturers as they have been in the forefront of this development.

How Did This Come About?
To put it short and sweet: electronic computing power. Without electronics all this could not happen. Today's cars have computers in them that control every minute operation in an engine. There have been mechanical advances too that run hand in hand with the electronics.

Engines are downsized and ever more power is squeezed from these engines so that you have normal production engines with more power per size (capacity) than racing engines of years ago. One could imagine that these high powered engines would be gas guzzlers, but they are not.

I remember in the 1950's and 1960's you had these huge American barges with large engines that slurped gasoline. Fuel was cheap and if the V8 gave 8 to 10 mpg, it was no big deal as the powerful torque and the effortless way they moved about was too enticing. In the so-called colonies these cars were popular because of this and their robustness on poor roads was legendary.

Cars from Europe and Britain were more compact to suit their cramped cities and roads and the engines smaller and used less fuel as it was much more expensive than in America, being taxed to the limit.

In the 1970's came the fuel crisis and the governments, especially in America tried to extract downsizing and more efficient cars from their manufacturers. All kinds of remedies were attempted and the result was sometimes abysmal. Electronic and other controls were introduced into these engines but the technology was not yet up to the standard required.

The 1980's and 1990's saw a more relaxed situation but the engineers were at work. Electronic controls started to become more sophisticated as the technology advanced rapidly. Then in the new millennium there came a veritable explosion in achievements.

In subsequent articles I will expand on this subject and describe the various methods by which the exceptional economy of today's cars is achieved. Low fuel consumption is not only affected by the design of the engine and the automobile itself.