This is the second 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 how it was done. This is such a vast subject that it is being broken down into several sections.
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.
As mentioned in the first article, the claims of the manufacturers sound like the claims of snake oil salesmen, almost too good to believe.
The most obvious developments:
Some developments are simple to explain and have been known for many years, but have not been used for various reasons.
• Reduction in weight:
With the increasing pressure to make automobiles safer, their structure had to be stronger in certain sections and this has caused an increase in weight over the years.
These days steels with high strength are being used in the main body of the car. Plastics and composites ( high- strength woven fibers in the matrix of a resin), have made their appearance on production cars. Composites are however very expensive and have limited applications and are mostly used in racing cars and some expensive exotic sport cars.
Aluminum is used more and more these days for the body structure, mostly on the more pricey automobiles. In stop and start traffic the reduction of weight has the most effect on the economy of a car.
Careful attention is being paid to reduce aerodynamic drag as far as possible. In the 1930' a Czechoslovakian car maker, Tatra, had a car that was designed in a wind tunnel to have a drag co-efficient that beats that of any modern production car. Many years ago makes like Citroen as well as Audi had produced cars with low drag co-efficient and lately every manufacturer does it also. Thus it is nothing new, but has risen in importance in the last few years.
The effect of aerodynamic drag only comes into play at higher speeds such as being reached on the open road, but is also one of the factors that is actively pursued by the manufacturers.
• The reduction of friction losses:
Where-ever possible friction in engines is reduced by the design of the pistons, bearings and various other methods.
The ancillary equipment such as water pumps, oil pumps, air conditioning compressors and power steering are often driven by electric motors controlled by electronics to work on demand when needed.
Low friction tires are used where other factors as road holding are not deemed to be more important.