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U.S. “Big 3” 2004 Technology Highlights

It’s an annual Motown ritual. Each summer, U.S. automakers roll out their fall fashions for the auto press to scrutinize. Top engineers and execs are always on hand to unveil and pontificate on the new products’ features and innovations and submit to endless interviews. Here’s a sampling of what they showed off.


Navigation radio is available on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Chrysler Group’s preview focused on ‘04 product, including an all-new larger, roomier Durango mid-size SUV. Besides best-in-class GVWR, cargo and towing capabilities, its top optional engine is the new 345 hp HEMI V-8. Its frame is fully hydroformed, and new technology includes a “Tow/Haul” transmission feature for crisper shifts and less gear searching while towing and traction control for improved foul weather and off-road grip. Pacifica’s available navigation system screen resides inside the speedometer, Chrysler 300Ms and Dodge Rams offer a new combined audio/DVD navigation system, while Jeep Grand Cherokee takes it one step further with Navigation Radio, a combined radio/CD player/DVD navigation system option, also available dealer-installed on many models. Both are compact, with small (4.2-in.) color screens, and fairly easy to use. Most ’04 models offer SIRIUS satellite radio and the Uconnect option, which uses Bluetooth technology to enable wireless, hands-free communications through customers’ own cellular phones placed anywhere in the vehicle.

Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan feature new standard tire pressure monitor warning lamps, the ’04 Pacifica becomes the first Chrysler vehicle with SecureShield laminated glass to reduce noise and protect against intrusions, and Dodge Ram offers new optional poweradjustable pedals.

Displayed in a Town and Country minivan was an experimental Motorola Driver Advocate system, which addresses driver distraction by managing incoming information from cell phones, navigation and diagnostic/ warning systems and lets the driver control these communications through a threebutton mechanism on the steering wheel.

Interestingly, included among the drive vehicles was a PT Cruiser powered by a strong and civilized 119-hp Euro-spec Mercedes 4-cylinder diesel with a 5-speed manual transaxle, reportedly capable of 35-plus mpg. A future U.S. diesel option?



Ford sees a hydrogen-powered ICE as a bridging technology to full fuel-cell vehicles. The hope is that this technology, shown in a Focus wagon, may help stimulate hydrogen infrastructure development.

Ford provided a technology tour and experimental vehicle drive opportunities as part of its ’04 media preview. Among the latter were Ford’s third-generation Focus fuel cell electric vehicle (FEV) and a Focus wagon that Ford claims is the industry’s first driveable hydrogenfueled internal combustion engine (ICE) hybrid vehicle. Both drove reasonably well but were not quite ready for “prime time” production. Ford’s fuel cell car is “hybridized” with the addition of a 300V Sanyo battery pack (made up of 180 individual D-size NiMH cells) and brake-by-wire electrohydraulic regenerative braking. Both features — also found on the soon-to-come production Escape Hybrid — improve the FEV’s performance and range, which is a respectable 160-200 miles from its 5,000-psi (up from the previous 3,600-psi) hydrogen storage tank. The hydrogen ICE is seen as a potential “bridging” technology using conventional components to stimulate hydrogen infrastructure development.

The Hybrid Escape, scheduled for fleet production by the end of 2003, is touted as a “nocompromise SUV” with V-6 performance, AWD, normal off-road and cargo capabilities, seamless propulsion transitions, 400-500- mile range, 35-40 mpg city economy and “virtual zero” emissions. Its “full hybrid” powertrain — a 2.3L 4V Atkinson-cycle version of Ford’s Global I-4 engine teamed with a 65-kW electric motor and electric CVT transmission — will also be used in other vehicles, beginning with a hybrid Futura sedan in 2005.

A new group of Ford engineers is working on advanced diesel engines and emissions controls in hopes of offering a U.S. diesel Focus despite extremely tough future emissions requirements. And Ford techies are rightly proud of their PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) Focus, powered by a lively 145-hp variation of the Global I-4, which was introduced this spring in California, New York and Massachusetts.

Showcased ’04 production technologies also included the Volvo XC90’s Roll Stability Control, the Jaguar XJ’s all-aluminum unibody and the new F-150 pickup’s magnesium radiator support.

General Motors

GM leaders are convinced that technology will be a major differentiator and that GM enjoys strong competitive advantages in many areas. To prove that point, they rolled out an enormous tent-full of tech displays and accompanying engineers to impress and enlighten.

GM’s four electronic systems, active front steering, adaptive cruise control, head-up display and remote vehicle start, share and rely upon data from each system for top performance.
Driveable demonstration vehicles included Hy-Wire (the modular body on “roller skate” fuel cell chassis) and HydroGen 3 (“H-3”), GM’s third-generation FEV. The smoothdriving H-3 “proves you can do a practical FEV,” says executive director, science and technology, Alan Taub, “now the issue is affordability.” Not to mention durability, infrastructure development, hydrogen storage and, Taub adds, “compelling and credible vehicles.” GM’s fuel cell cost target is $50 per kW vs. $5,000 per kW five years ago.

One important area where GM claims industry leadership is electronic — and especially powertrain — controls. While many OEMs out-source time-consuming software development, GM keeps it in-house. One example of a resulting competitive advantage is the Oil Life System (OLS) introduced in 1988 and now standard on nearly all GM products. It uses a computer algorithm to adjust oil change intervals based on climate, driving habits and engine characteristics.

 GM also displayed this experimental 3-valve head.
Properly used, GM says that OLS should save millions of gallons of oil, which is good for both the customer and the environment.

Among the many displayed powertrain items were some — three levels of hybrids, Displacement on Demand (DOD), advanced diesel technologies, gasoline direct injection, two-step valve lift, port deactivation — that have been covered before and some that haven’t. Consider, for example, 3-valve heads and cam phasers for OHV engines, the former boosting power 10-15 percent, the latter soon to be “across the board” on GM pushrod engines. Next come variable-length “active intake manifolds,” exhaust manifolds integrated into cylinder heads (already on a Honda 3.5L V-6 and GM Euro-market 3-cylinders) and turbochargers integrated into exhaust manifolds (on an Opel 2L turbo four) to save mass, cost and space.

Transmission technologies included planetary stepped-gear fwd and rwd 6-speed automatics, advanced torque converters, a 6- speed rwd planetary manual (parts-compatible with the 6-Speed automatic), dual-clutch and automatically shifted manual transmissions (MTAs, now in limited production in European Opels), an advanced continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Integrated Friction Launch, which eliminates the torque converter by using the range clutch in a wideratio 6-speed automatic to launch the vehicle. The fwd 6-speed automatic (on which GM is partnering with Ford for production by middecade) is unique in that it uses three planetary gearsets and five clutches.

GM’s industry-first OEM remote start system debuts on the 2004 Chevy Malibu. It transmits up to 200 feet, energizes climate control as well as the engine and (unlike aftermarket add-ons) is fully integrated with the vehicle’s safety and security systems. GM’s adaptive cruise control (ACC), which debuts on ’04 Cadillac XLR, integrates cruise with engine management, anti-lock braking and heads-up 3-valve head (right).

display to maintain following distance to a driver- set interval and can automatic-brake up to 0.3g. The next logical step (also displayed) is ACC with Forward Collision Warning.

Also in the safety category is Advanced Automatic Crash Notification (AACN), which automatically calls for help and provides crash severity information following any collision, regardless of air bag deployment. It’s standard on 2004 Malibu and Malibu MAXX and will spread to other GM products in the very near future. Also, GM’s full-size 15-passenger vans become the industry’s first with a standard vehicle stability enhancement system (VSES).

Magneto-rheological fluid (MRF), which uses fine iron particles suspended in fluid to instantaneously alter the fluid’s viscosity in response to a magnetic field, is the enabling technology in GM’s Magnetic Selective Ride Control (“MagneRide”) semi-active suspension, standard in Cadillac STS, the 50th Anniversary Corvette and ’04 Cadillac XLR and SRX. Another industry-first MRF application is GM’s next-generation truck radiator fan drive, which improves cooling and fuel economy while reducing noise.

Electric Power Steering (EPS) improves fuel economy by eliminating the hydraulic power steering pump, provides speed-sensitive variable assist and enables future “driveby- wire” systems. Already on European Opel Corsas, column EPS made its U.S. debut on the ’03 Saturn ION and is featured on ’04 Saturn VUE, Pontiac Grand Am and Chevrolet Malibu. Rack EPS is under development for GM mid-size and larger vehicles.

Interactive Driving System (IDS) Plus uses advanced software — no additional hardware — to enhance both stability and ultimate handling for improved safety and driving entertainment. It combines GM’s continuous damping control (CDC) and electronic stability program (ESP), allows selection of Normal or Sport modes, and will be offered first in several ’05 Opel models. Active Front Steering, under development for further down the road, will add or subtract steering angle and continuously modify the ratio based on vehicle speed, steering wheel angle and steering wheel velocity to ease low-speed maneuvers, reduce high-speed sensitivity and enhance stability in emergencies.

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