Denso's Mitsuo Matsushita envisions a master control module for all electronic systems in a car: "One brain, so to speak. We are working toward that."
Electronic components already are helping cars save gasoline by shutting down cylinders while the car is cruising. BorgWarner Inc. supplies the electronic controls for the dual-clutch transmission that gives the Audi TT the fuel economy and performance of a manual transmission with the ease of an automatic.
Next up are systems to replace mechanical and hydraulic components such as power steering pumps and brake cylinders.
A belt connected to the engine
drives mechanical pumps, making the engine work harder. Converting to electronic controls would reduce weight and eliminate a major drag on engine power and fuel economy.
Steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire remove that drag, as sensors in the brake pedal and steering wheel tell actuators what to do about braking and steering. The trick is making them cost-effective and overcoming a reluctance to rely solely on wires and sensors to do the work, says David Ladd, director of North American communications for Siemens VDO Automotive Corp. in Auburn Hills, Mich.
The key to bringing consumer electronics into a vehicle, such as navigation systems and rear-seat video systems - is to do it safely, says Jim Geschke, vice president of electronic integration for Johnson Controls Inc. in Plymouth, Mich.
"How do you enable the driver to control various electronic features without creating a distraction risk?" he asks. "The industry really owes it to the public to manage that migration of consumer electronics into the car."
New ways to manage all the electronic gadgets are in the works. Denso International America Inc. CEO Mitsuo Matsushita envisions one master control module for all electronic systems in the car. "One brain, so to speak," he says. "We are working toward that."
In the 2006 model year, Siemens will have a new microprocessor system for engine management.
The company now uses three, 12-bit microprocessors. Instead of adding another 12-bit processor, Siemens will use 32-bit processors, which give the engine computer 100 times more computing power and 60 times more memory than most desktop computers.