SEMA News -- April 2009
By Steve Campbell
Illustration By Scott Waraniak
Driving Green, Connected, Safe and Cool
No industry is tied to technology like the automotive industry. Every part of virtually every business is affected by advances in materials, systems and technologies that make vehicles more personalized, more convenient and safer. Technology is the future of customization. Creativity and innovation must be championed, but the industry must also exhibit self-regulation to ensure that specialty-equipment technologies, accessories and modifications don’t create distractions within the vehicle while it helps drivers manage road and traffic conditions, keeps them informed and keeps them entertained.
John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle technology, has identified four megatrends driving technology and innovation in the original-equipment and specialty-equipment industries. These trends, combined with the technologies and processes for integrating them into today’s vehicles, as well as those being launched in the next few years, are creating new and exciting opportunities for the performance aftermarket.
Driving Green: MPH + MPGe
The move toward environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient transportation has been an undercurrent in the auto industry for decades, but it recently gained attention and popularity when petroleum-based product costs soared in the last few years. Even when fuel prices dropped in response to decreased demand, the die had been cast. The industry and consumers alike voiced renewed support for green systems and technologies, and specialty-equipment companies once again brought innovation and performance to the marketplace, as evidenced by the Making Green Cool Zone (MGCZ) and the Green Performance Technology Briefings at the 2008 SEMA Show. “The purpose of the MGCZ is to demonstrate that bringing more environmentally responsible vehicle technologies and products to the marketplace doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice performance and the cool factor,” Waraniak said.
Among the presenters at the Green Performance Technical Briefing Seminar (TBS) was Jonathan Goodwin of H-Line Conversions. Goodwin, together with rock legend Neil Young, built a hybrid-electric biodiesel ’59 Lincoln. The pair wanted to show that existing vehicles could be built or retrofitted with aftermarket off-the-shelf components to deliver not only 500 hp of pure performance, but also achieve a 75-mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency in a 2-ton vehicle.
“This is technology that’s been around for 100 years,” Goodwin said. “The electric motor that we’re using to push the car down the road is made by UQM Technologies, and we have a set of batteries that run the electric motor. You don’t have to plug the vehicle into a house to charge the car; you have an onboard generator that kicks on so that you don’t have to stop to plug the
car in. We want to demonstrate and prove the concept that the things we’re doing and the things you’re seeing at the SEMA Show can be a reality within the next few years.”
A display by Electrojet Inc. also demonstrated the benefits of applying advanced aftermarket technology to systems and existing vehicles as well. Company founder Kyle Schwultz said that Electrojet produces low-cost electronic engine controls for applications including motorcycles, scooters and lawn mowers. The company developed a low-cost fuel-injection system that can be retrofitted to small engines, and the application can make a worldwide difference in emissions control.
“China and India combined make more than 30 million small engines, predominantly in motorcycles,” Schwultz said.
“For every mile driven, those motorcycles pollute more than four times the amounts of CO of any automotive car on the road in North America. The green and cool aspect is that the electronic controls we provide for these motorcycles reduce CO emissions by 65%–87%, NOx by 35% and hydrocarbons by more than 40%—all while also improving fuel economy by 15% and increasing acceleration, making more power and making the engines easier to start. It’s all about quality of life and having a little more performance, and our products are available at a very low incremental cost over the existing technology.”
Green has also come to NASCAR racing, albeit not yet in the competition field. A new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid was used as the official pace car of the championship weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The MGCZ also featured vehicles, products and information about a number of racing series that include alternative-fuel and zero-emissions performance technologies, such as the American Le Mans Series Green Challenge. Ed Triolo, the vice president of marketing for the American Le Mans Series, said that the inaugural Green Challenge at Road Atlanta race track on October 4, 2008, was won by General Motors’ Corvette Racing. The winning Corvette was powered by cellulosic E85R ethanol made from waste wood, and it achieved the best overall score in the competition based on performance, fuel efficiency and environmental impact.
Other exhibits featured the TTXGP race on the Isle of Man this June, which will showcase more than 52 zero-emissions motorcycle teams representing 20 countries’ racing bikes capable of reaching Grand Prix speeds; a Toyota Prius Hybrid with vertical doors, special paint and 24-inch wheels built by George Barris, the King of the Kustomizers; a vintage Toyota truck built by Seth Warren that has currently gone farther than any other vehicle in the world without petroleum—all the way from the northernmost part of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina—using vegetable and animal oil for fuel; and Dino Fuel Alternatives’ self-contained, heated, fully automated fuel system that allows a diesel truck to run on B100, WVO, diesel or any mix thereof all the way down to 40 below zero.
“The key point is that we’re not making green cool,” said Waraniak, organizer of the MGCZ. “Green is already cool. We’re providing a platform for our members to showcase their products and innovations on a world stage and demonstrate that horsepower and green power can coexist.”
Driving Connected: Built-in, Brought-in or Beamed-in
Automotive technology has extended far beyond the car itself. In addition to features, functions and systems that are built into a vehicle, consumer devices, information and applications are also being brought in and beamed in to today’s vehicles. Ford’s Sync is one example of built-in, beamed-in and brought-in technology, in which the system offers not only voice-activated entertainment features and traffic information, but also immediate connection to emergency services and integration of Bluetooth and cell phone devices. GM’s OnStar navigation, vehicle diagnostic and emergency-services functions coupled with automatic crash-response offer another array of connected-vehicle technologies. Waraniak believes that systems such as these can offer more value to consumers when the vehicles are designed and engineered as open platforms and systems with future content, applications and upgrades in mind—including those from specialty-equipment manufacturers.
“With Sync, we are partners in the technology business,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development. “We are not interested in developing our own proprietary or closed system. We want to work with technology companies for the good of our customers. That’s why we’ve created an open platform that accepts your hardware and software products and applications. Ultimately, Ford is striving to deliver technologies and applications to customers with speed, scale and affordability that no other automaker can touch.”
This type of thinking by vehicle manufacturers regarding flexible and open system platforms and architectures is the way forward, Waraniak said, noting that open architectures drive integration and integration drives innovation and growth.
“Open architectures, systems and platforms recognize that the most valuable application or service may not be apparent yet,” Waraniak explained. “It may not be created, or it may not even be thought of.”
Automakers have recognized that connected vehicles are a hit with consumers. Vehicles equipped with Sync sell twice as fast as those without, according to Tom Phillips, general manager of the automotive business unit for Microsoft, which developed the system for Ford.
“That’s a constant figure, even with the economic challenges of the industry through the last six months,” Phillips said. “That means a faster turnover for the dealer and Ford. It means a financial impact. Even more importantly, it means that the customers who buy them are satisfied; 80% of the people using Ford Sync are very satisfied with that level of functionality and would recommend it to a friend.”
Driving Safely: Cars That Don’t Crash
National crash statistics for 2006 indicated that 42,642 fatalities and 2,575,000 injuries resulted from 1,784,000 automobile accidents. Combined with the other 4,189,000 crashes that resulted in only property damage, the total cost was $230.5 billion. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has established the goal of a 90% reduction in crashes by 2030, which would result in 383,778 saved lives and monetary savings of more than $2 trillion by 2040. USDOT recognizes that connected vehicles can help achieve those safety goals and that allowing innovation from specialty-equipment businesses can get there quicker and more efficiently.
“We have a broad challenge to really use innovation to make this happen,” said Tim Schmidt, chief technology officer of the USDOT at SEMA’s recent Connected Vehicle Technology Seminar. “We’ll worry about safety—that’s got to be the underlying current from the government—but we don’t want people to be restrained in their thinking.”
Using a wide variety of sensors and systems both onboard and in the roadside infrastructure and in traffic-control devices, vehicles can not only be guided away from collisions, but also receive signals that aid in fuel economy. For instance, if a vehicle is approaching a red light and the signal detects that there is no opposing traffic, it can be programmed to turn green, allowing the vehicle to continue without stopping and wasting fuel.
“Cars equipped with wireless technologies know in advance if the surface ahead is icy and can warn other cars,” said Kieran O’Sullivan, executive vice president of the interior division of Continental North America’s Global Connectivity Business Unit. “If an accident has happened around the curve ahead—even if it is out of view of the driver—the system will note that the lane is blocked. Vehicles can now warn the driver of potential hazards and accidents even though they’re not yet visible to the driver.”
SEMA is working with several companies to develop Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing and simulation of aftermarket electronic stability control and modified vehicle dynamics performance. HIL testing effectively combines math model simulation (CarSim) with SEMA-member product data and plugs directly into a vehicle’s body and chassis electronic control modules. This dSpace HIL system (pictured) is utilizing CarSim RT with an ESC and Powertrain control module.
Several new technologies are being deployed in vehicles around the globe over the course of the next few years. Electronic stability control, the computerized system that improves the safety of a vehicle’s handling by detecting and preventing skids, was introduced more than a decade ago and is now mandated for all new vehicles. Some of the advanced systems seem like concepts from science fiction: night vision systems that make darkened surroundings visible hundreds of feet out; adaptive cruise control that uses radar or lasers to slow a vehicle when approaching another and accelerate again when traffic allows; roll stability control for detecting and the prevention of impending rollovers; lane departure warnings that alert the driver if the vehicle begins to move out of its lane; and blind-spot warnings that sense when another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot. More than a dozen such safety systems are already in the product pipeline and will be available in real-world form in the near future.
“If you thought about only the OEMs and the Tier 1 suppliers installing these kinds of things and having them fully embedded in the vehicle, it would take 20 years to get to the level of penetration you need,” said Roger Berg, vice president of wireless at Denso. “But with a high level of cooperation and collaboration between the auto OEMs and the aftermarket, we can have this kind of technology developed and deployed. Ten years ago, the OEMs would say they didn’t want any aftermarket stuff in the car—and there are still some people who think that way—but collaboration can actually make some of these things work and move forward in establishing a pathway to achieve that 90% traffic fatality reduction.”
Driving Cool: Making It Mine
Open innovation and democratized technology will result in new levels of performance, personalization and customization previously undreamed of. Automakers are reducing the number of platforms produced and the complexity of vehicle builds, while simultaneously searching for ways to increase product differentiation to avoid cookie-cutter models. SEMA members can help provide cost-effective product differentiation and profitable personalization. In order for that to happen, however, automakers and original-equipment suppliers must design and manufacture their vehicles and systems with customization in mind. In the case of electronics, the architecture used must accommodate flexibility. For instance, the controller-area network (CAN) allows microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle without a host computer, but many current automaker designs and architectures can lock out or make it very difficult for consumers to add new applications and innovations.
“The problem is that everything is intertwined on a CAN bus so that you’ve got safety messages that are intertwined with infotainment messages,” said Chris Cook, vice president of the OEM division at NAV-TV Corp. “We want to add an infotainment device, but we don’t want to interfere with anything in the safety side. So why can’t those be separated in the development cycle for the automakers so they can stay ahead in the design cycle of consumer electronics?
It needs to happen at the automaker level—a change in how the car is developed.”
Think of all the technologies that have entered the vehicle in just the past decade: Bluetooth; satellite radio; hi-def radio; backseat video; streaming audio; MP3 players; backseat gaming; GPS navigation; mobile Internet service; human-machine interfaces using voice commands; and information on traffic, weather, the closest gas station, restaurants and shopping. Who knows what cool, convenient, personalized revenue-generating application might be next?
“The trend is simple,” said Cook. “Consumers want more than automakers and suppliers are giving them, and the aftermarket has that ability to give them more when they want it, how they want it and where they want it and allow them to spend their money in the economy, which drives a lot of the innovations that you see the automakers bring into the car. Auto security, in-car video and rear-seat entertainment are products that were delivered in the aftermarket first and then were adopted into the vehicle very shortly afterward. In the aftermarket, in order for us to thrive and deliver to the consumer what they want when they want it and keep them in tune with the digital trends, we have to have the ability to communicate with the vehicle. We need the ability to be a partner with the automakers and the suppliers to deliver products that they may not intend to deliver to the consumer.”
SEMA Helps Members Leverage Vehicle Technology
SEMA is working to develop vehicle technology solutions and build relationships that foster collaboration between automakers, original-equipment suppliers, research organizations, industry associations and member companies. Programs, such as Measuring Sessions and Technology Transfer, provide specialty-equipment manufacturers with the means to introduce innovations at vehicle launch or even before. SEMA’s Vehicle Technology Briefing Seminars provide members with in-depth information from leading industry experts about advanced vehicle technologies and emerging systems to help them prepare for and leverage new business opportunities.
“The TBS program is designed to help our members understand what vehicle technologies and product development opportunities are coming down the road and support them in developing plans and solutions to address them,” said Waraniak. “The TBS program allows member companies to not only understand the basics of increasingly complex vehicle technologies and systems, but also evaluate the potential impact on their products and businesses as the specialty-equipment and performance industry continues to evolve.
Notice of future Measuring Sessions, information about additions to the Technology Transfer program and topics and dates of upcoming Vehicle Technology Briefing Seminars are published in SEMA News as well as SEMA eNews.