Eight on the floor and four under the hood, baby! Wait!…..What?! Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Shouldn’t that be 4-on-the-floor? And 8 cylinders under the hood?

Not in today’s world of maximum fuel economy and even more maximum performance. The trend in engines today is that less is more. Fewer cylinders, providing more horsepower, better fuel economy and performance. Trucks that used to have V8 engines now have 6 cylinder and even 4 cylinder engines available. Ford’s top selling F-150 full sized pickup now has more trucks driving off the lot with 6 cylinder engines than with 8 cylinders. And the Ford Explorer that used to sport a 4.0 liter V8 has been replaced by a Ford Explorer offering a 2.0 liter turbo 4 cylinder. Technology that is available today is allowing automakers to produce 4 cylinder engines that can more than hold their own with the 6 and 8 cylinder engines of the 70’s through 90’s. Advancements in fuel injection, turbocharging, valve timing and camshaft phasing allows the small engines to perform like the big engines they compete with when necessary, but sip fuel just like or even better than the weaker 4 cylinders of yesteryear. The best of both times. So next time you hear someone say “Wow! I coulda had a V8!”, you’ll probably find that they are glad they didn’t.

But what about the transmission? Didn’t it used to be “4-on-the-floor”? Yes, but those times have changed, too. The 4 speed automatic has been replaced by the 5 speed automatic, which is being replaced by the 6 speed automatic. But sooner than you can start counting to 6 on the other hand, here come 8 speeds. BMW sedans and SUVs are available with 8 speeds today. Chrysler’s Ram Trucks will have 8 speeds next year, as will Chrysler and some Dodge cars. What’s the point? And where will it end?

Part of what makes the little 4 cylinder engines so good is that they are able to achieve peak torque (rotational force) at very low revolutions. Eight speed transmissions help make that happen. Having transmissions with more gears allows the engine to stay in a range where the torque is high and the car just feels better. Then, when the transmission is in its higher gear ranges and the engine is turning slower, but with high torque, the vehicle can achieve better fuel economy (lower engine speed) while maintaining a better driving feel (higher torque).

That’s enough on this subject, at least until next time, when we’ll discuss 3 cylinder engines and 9 speed transmissions…….Really?………Really!

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Can We Talk……

Posted: October 9, 2010 in Audio & Navigation, Telematics

……about Bluetooth?

Here’s a conversation I have everyday, several times a day:

CAR:  Ready

ME:  Bluetooth

CAR: OK.  Accessing…..Blackberry…..Please say a command

ME:  Call {my wife’s name} mobile

CAR:  Did you say ” Call {my wife’s name} mobile?”

ME:  Yes

CAR:  Dialing

Everyday I use the built in Bluetooth system in my car to make cell phone calls.  I do this in order to stay clear of the many local cell phone / distracted driving laws that have started to pop up over the last several years.  More importantly, I do it because it is a safer way to communicate when driving.  I am now at the point where I will not  answer my phone while I’m driving, UNLESS I can manage it handsfree.

This is where automakers are really helping us out these days.  A few years ago, you could only get Bluetooth equipped cars if you were buying  an expensive German sedan (BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have been offering Bluetooth for years).  But in today’s competitive market, automakers are offering what used to be premium technology content in everyday vehicles.  Every Ford that has SYNC as an available option is Bluetooth capable.  This includes everything from the $13,320 Fiesta to the $57,000 plus Lincoln Navigator.   At GM, every vehicle that has OnStar as an available option has Bluetooth available, ranging from the $16,275 Cruze to the $102,000 plus Corvette ZR1.  Chrysler doesn’t offer Bluetooth in the PT Cruiser, but everything else in their lineup offers it.  Toyota offers Bluetooth in everything from the lowest priced Yaris to the highest price Lexus and Honda offers it in everything from Civic on up.

Usually accessible through controls on the steering wheel, a car’s Bluetooth system can allow varying levels of handsfree voice control over devices connected through the Bluetooth protocol.  The convenience of the steering wheel controls makes this an option that you need to decide on at the time you purchase your vehicle.  Adding an aftermarket Bluetooth setup is possible, but you lose the convenience of having the controls literally at your fingertips.

You might be wondering, where did the name Bluetooth come from and what is the significance?  Well, the Bluetooth protocol was developed by Ericsson, a Scandinavian electronics equipment company.  The name is in reference to a Scandinavian king, Harald I of Denmark who was also known as Bluetooth and was renowned for having brought together many of the scattered Danish tribes of Denmark and Norway.  Bluetooth is a technology that “brings all sorts of electronic devices together”.  Aren’t you glad you know that now?

Done with the history lesson.  Back to car technologies.

The one drawback to talking over a vehicle installed  Bluetooth in your car is the need to be extra careful during those times when you are not alone in the car.  Since the Bluetooth system places the call through your car’s stereo system, the person you’re talking to on the other end will be heard through the car speakers.  If I answer a call when I have others in the car I IMMEDIATELY say “this is me, and I have Jack, Judy, and Jerry here, too”.  Sometimes common sense has to transcend technology.

If you have the opportunity to get a Bluetooth system in your next vehicle, do it.  You’ll certainly grow to appreciate it.

And the next time you pull up next to someone who looks as if he’s a nut job talking to himself, cut him some slack.  He might be talking to his car.

Infotainment Explosion!

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Audio & Navigation, Telematics

It was Friday, July 13, 1979.  I was preparing for my 265 mile drive from Detroit to Buffalo.  One last check to make sure I have all my cassettes.  Radio reception on the two lane roads between Sarnia, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario was very spotty so having the right cassettes was critical to making this 5 hour drive bearable.  I had just upgraded the stereo in my car with an auto-reverse cassette player that would automatically play both sides of the cassette.  Up until then, when one side was finished I had to eject the cassette and turn it over.

Somewhere between Sarnia and London, Ontario I popped the Jeff Lorber cassette out so that I could put in the Spyro Gyra cassette.  Through the radio static I heard the news.  Minnie Riperton, one of my favorite singers,  had lost her fight with cancer the day before at the age of 32.

Fast forward to Saturday, July 11, 2009.  Packing for the 900+ mile drive from Hilton Head Island back to Detroit.  Instead of a stack of cassette tapes, I’m checking to confirm that I have my iPod and the 3,800 songs that are stored in this smaller than a cigarette pack device.  After we get everything packed into the hybrid SUV (subject for another post) and the kids are all buckled in, we start the DVD so that the kids can watch their movie.  A quick scan of one of the two hundred or so satellite radio stations landed on ESPN radio where the breaking news story was the death of Arturo Gatti, one of my favorite  professional boxers, at the age of 37.

In 30 years so much has changed, but so much has stayed the same.  We still like to be entertained on long drives.  But our entertainment options have improved dramatically from spotty static riddled antenna reception to seemingly unlimited choices of clear, high definition radio and satellite radio.  From 8-track cartridges and cassettes to MP3 players that connect to the car stereo and built in computer hard drives that store up to 40 gigabytes of whatever music you want to listen to.  And instead of seeing who can spot the most different states’ license plates, back seat passengers can watch a movie or play a video game while the driver chauffeurs them to their next destination.

So what could possibly be next?  To get an idea of what is next in the development of vehicle infotainment technologies, one need only look around and see what people are carrying.  In the 1970s people were carrying around portable cassette decks so that they could listen to their music wherever they went.  Soon, cassette decks were installed in cars.  Then CD players, then DVD players, then  MP3 players and USB flash drives.

Now people are accessing music through highly functional cell phones and smart phones.  And cars are already outfitted to accommodate these devices.  The interaction between the car and the cell phone is being taken to the next level.  Later this year when Nissan starts selling the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and GM starts selling the Chevrolet Volt range extended electric vehicle, customers will be able to access their cars remotely.  They’ll be able to check the car’s battery life, tell it when to start recharging, turn on the air conditioning or set radio stations before they even get to the car.

So what’s next?  What can YOU imagine?

Downsized Boosting

Posted: September 10, 2010 in Powertrain

Back in the 1980s, there was a bit of a trend where car companies were putting turbo chargers on small engines (like Ford’s 2.3L 4 cylinder Mustang turbo) and sometimes big engines (like Pontiac’s 4.9L V8 Trans Am).  It was all about power.  Fuel economy on turbo engines was not that great, but man could they fly.

Now, 30 years later we can see an even bigger and faster growing trend, called “Down Sized Boosting”.  This is where auto companies replace a larger engine with a smaller, but turbo-charged, engine.  So why is this different from turbo options 30 years ago?  It’s because both engine and turbo charger technologies have advanced to the point where you can have your cake and eat it, too.  The addition of technologies such as Variable Valve Timing and Gasoline Direct Injection make it possible to replace a 4.6L V8 engine making 315 horsepower with a 3.5L Twin Turbo V6 making 355 horsepower and get 20% better fuel economy.  This is what Ford is doing with their EcoBoost engine in the Ford Taurus SHO, the Ford Flex, and the Ford Edge.  Soon they will also make available 1.6L EcoBoost engines in the new Ford Fiesta and 2.0L EcoBoost engines in the soon to be introduced 2011 Ford Focus.  These 4 cylinders will have the power of V6 engines and the fuel economy of 4 cylinder engines.

But Ford is not alone.  BMW, Volkswagen, and Audi are also heavily invested in the use of small boosted engines to improve both power and fuel economy.  And Buick has just introduced a redesigned Buick Regal with a 255 horsepower 2.0L Direct Injected Turbo 4 cylinder.  Just as a point of reference, I once owned a 1987 Chevrolet Corvette with a 5.7L, 245 hp V8 engine.  That’s almost three times the engine and 10 less horsepower than the 4 cylinder Regal. 

Ain’t technology grand?


Greetings!

Welcome to my blog, “Your Car Does What?!?!?

My intent with this blog is to introduce the casual car enthusiast to the ever expanding world of automotive technology. Those of us old enough to remember when power windows, power locks, and cruise control were luxury options should be able to appreciate how fast modern technology is being applied to the vehicles we love, loathe, and lust for.

As this blog matures, it is my hope that frequent visitors will get a chance to peek at some of the new technologies that are on the way to a dealership near you. I also hope that we have a lot of fun on the journey. Technologies will be covered on a just below the surface level. What it is, what it does, how it works, and why in the world would I ever want that. We will not go so deep as to define the operating frequencies of your key fob remote start.

Full (well, ALMOST full) disclosure time……I am currently employed in the automotive industry. I choose not to disclose the company I am employed with and hopefully my opinions will be unbiased enough to not make that too obvious.

I am also a gearhead (I like cars) and a gadget man (iPod, iPaq, iPad, i got it), so I tend to get hands on with a lot of new technologies, both consumer electronics and automotive, and especially where the two tend to meet.

Included among my responsibilities in my company is the responsibility to uncover, evaluate, and recommend new technologies for automotive application. It is with this lens that I will attempt to provide to you, the casual car enthusiast, a view of interesting things to come.

Enjoy the ride!

martinjlm