The exposition at the SAE World Congress is a cornucopia of automotive engineering. Products run the gamut from plastic connectors and grommets to integrated starter alternators.
The annual trade show, held last week in Detroit, also is a place for companies to entice auto engineers with technologies and devices that push the envelope in performance or convenience.
Here are things that caught our eye this year while prowling the exposition:
1 Built-in beverage heating and cooling systems should be optional on some domestic and imported sport-utilities starting in 2002, said Charles Cauchy, president of Tellurex Corp. of Traverse City, Mich. The company uses a thermoelectric semiconductor to generate temperatures ranging from 38 degrees to 120 degrees. The low-voltage semiconductor is mounted underneath the vehicle's console and conducts heat or cold by transfer to a metal plate or by a small electric fan. A center console for a Lincoln Navigator, for instance, could hold a six-pack of soda and keep it as cold as a refrigerator. The price to consumers is expected to be between $120 and $150.
2 NGK aims to outdistance its competitors with a line of Iridium IX spark plugs. The gold-colored spark plug, which retails for $15, is designed to reduce emissions, increase fuel economy and last longer than 100,000-mile platinum-tipped spark plugs. NGK officials say iridium is harder than platinum and provides a better spark for more thorough fuel burning in the combustion chamber.
3 The SmartBar from American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. enhances the handling performance of sport-utilities and off-road trucks by electronically sliding a metal collar that breaks the connection between the left and right sides of the sway bar. The system can be used on both front and rear sway bars. Uncoupling the sway bar lets each wheel move over bumps independently without causing a rocking motion in the vehicle body. The SmartBar debuts on the Hummer H2, which will be built on General Motors' full-sized truck platform. It is expected in late 2002.
4 Even the least expensive Hyundai and Kia models have highly polished and classy looking taillight lenses. They are not so much for safety purposes as for styling. The designs molded into the plastic are called reflexes. They not only reflect light but also make a design statement. Starting with the 2002 Ford Explorer, reflexes will get larger and more ornate, said Michael Beale of DBM Reflex in Tecumseh, Ontario.
5 If diesel engines find their way back into light vehicles in the United States, they likely will need to be equipped with a particulate matter filter, such as the Metalit from German catalyst supplier Emitec. The Metalit uses layers of perforated metal to trap the soot in the exhaust created by the combustion of diesel fuel. A supply of nitrogen dioxide from an earlier catalyst sets up a chemical reaction in the Metalit that heats it up, burning away the trapped soot. But for the Metalit system to meet durability requirements, the sulfur content of the diesel fuel must be below 10 parts per million.