DETROIT -- Visteon Corp. engineers have developed a heating and air conditioning unit that would create significantly more cabin space.
In today's vehicles, heating and air conditioning components are installed in numerous places: in the engine bay, ahead of the radiator, on the engine and behind the instrument panel.
Visteon's heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system places all the parts in one unit in the engine bay.
The result: an instrument panel that is just a few inches wide vs. more than a foot wide in a typical compact sedan.
The supplier has not sold the unit to an automaker, but Visteon officials say at least one automaker is evaluating the system for possible use in a hybrid or electric car and that it could be ready for production around 2020.
Visteon engineers installed the first working prototype of the unit, called the Integrated Climate Systems Module, in the e-Bee, a concept car they converted from a Nissan Leaf electric car.
With the evaporator, fan, fluid lines and other parts moved from behind the instrument panel to the engine bay, the Leaf's interior got a complete redesign.
The dash shrank from a width of about 18 inches from the base of the windshield to just 3.9 inches at its widest point.
The driver and passenger airbags were moved to the headliner. The front seats were moved forward, increasing legroom by roughly 15 inches. The increased distance between the seats and the instrument panel as well as between the front and rear seats could also improve safety, Visteon says.
Because the climate module requires a lot of space, it can't be incorporated into the engine bays of existing cars with internal combustion engines. But that may change as engine sizes continue to shrink. Visteon believes the first uses of the system will be in electric vehicles.
The climate module worked well during a demonstration of Visteon's e-Bee concept car, delivering cold air almost silently to the interior.
An electric heat pump generates cold and warm air. The air is blown into the cabin quietly through slits in the dash. Because the fan is in the engine bay, the system is practically noiseless.
Connectivity is another feature of the climate module, said Mark Graver, product development manager.
The module could read settings programmed into a cellphone and adjust the car's interior temperature when the driver approaches.
"It's our vision of what could be possible by 2020," Graver said. "It's all about flexibility."Valeo cuts weight
A Visteon competitor, French supplier Valeo SA, is working to make its HVAC systems more efficient by reducing weight, said German Bosherz, thermal systems r&d director for North America.
He said: "We're working with different materials and air distribution systems. We expect to be able to reduce weight by between 14 and 15 pounds." That's a lot, when engineers struggle to take even 1 pound out of a component.