Peter Fairley, Technology Review, Wednesday,
April 02, 2008 http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/20500/?nlid=978&a=f
Advances in floating platforms could take wind farms far from coasts,
reducing costs and skirting controversy.
Offshore wind-farm developers would love to build in deep water
more than 32 kilometers from shore, where stronger and steadier winds prevail
and complaints about marred scenery are less likely. But building foundations to
support wind turbines in water deeper than 20 meters is prohibitively expensive.
Now, technology developers are stepping up work in floating turbines to make
such farms feasible.
Several companies are on their way to demonstrating systems by borrowing
heavily from oil and gas offshore platform technology. In December, the Dutch
floating-turbine developer Blue H Technologies http://www.bluehgroup.com/ launched a
test platform off Italy's southern coast; last month, the company announced its
plans to install an additional test turbine off the coast of Massachusetts, and
possibly begin constructing a full wind farm off the Italian coast, next year.
Close behind is SWAY, based in
Bergen, Norway, which raised $29 million last fall and plans to field a
prototype of its floating wind turbine in 2010.
If these efforts succeed, they could open up a resource of immense scale. For
example, according to a 2006 analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Electric,
and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, offshore wind resources on
the Atlantic and Pacific coasts exceed the current electricity generation of the
entire U.S. power industry.
The success of the floating turbine could hold the key to exploiting that
resource. Wind farms such as those installed in Denmark, Germany, and other
European waters and proposed for Nantucket Sound, in Massachusetts, suffer from
a limited supply of marine construction equipment such as pile drivers and
cranes. Emerging Energy Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, said
last week that the global market for offshore wind energy could reach
40,000 megawatts by 2020--enough to power more than 30 million
U.S. homes, and more than twice the scale of last year's wind installations
worldwide--but only with greatly expanded marine construction capacity. Building
even 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind over the next five years will require a
significant increase in the marine supply chain, according to Keith Hays, the
consultancy's research director.
Floating turbines can be assembled onshore and towed into position, making an
end run around the offshore construction bottleneck. The platform that Blue H
towed out of Brindisi Harbor in Puglia, Italy, this winter is called a
tension-leg platform, a conventional offshore oil and gas platform design that
floats below the surface, held rigidly in place by chains running to steel or
concrete anchors on the seabed. Installed on top is an 80-kilowatt wind turbine
fitted out with sensors to record the wave and wind forces experienced 10
kilometers offshore. Much bigger floating versions--2.5-megawatt and
3.5-megawatt turbines of the scale used in today's offshore wind
farms--are under construction by Blue H and could be installed as soon as this
What's unusual about Blue H's design is the turbine's two-bladed rotor--a
design that lost out to the three-blade design in the 1990s as the wind-turbine
industry scaled up. Martin Jakubowski, Blue H cofounder and chief technology
officer, says that the noise and jarringly high rotation speeds that made
two-bladers a loser on land are either irrelevant or a plus offshore. Faster
rotation, meanwhile, offers two benefits. Jakubowski says that the
30-to-35-revolutions-per-minute frequency, twice that of a three-bladed turbine,
is less susceptible to interference from the back-and-forth swing of the
platform under wave action.
Faster rotation also means less torque, meaning that the entire structure can
be built lighter. (See "Wind Power for Pennies.") The rotor, gearbox, and generator
of Blue H's 2.5-megawatt turbine will weigh 97 tons--53 tons lighter than the
lightest machine of the same power output on the market. "This is a big
advantage," says Jakubowski. "For us, weight on top is something we have to push
up." The turbine and platform are correspondingly cheaper to build, he says. The
net result, says Jakubowski, should be a highly competitive energy source. He
estimates that Blue H's wind farms will deliver wind energy for seven to eight
cents per kilowatt-hour, roughly matching the current cost of natural gas-fired
generation and conventional onshore wind energy.
And it will be out of sight and thus, the company hopes, out of mind for
competing local interests such as tourism. The site off Cape Cod where Blue H
intends to install a test platform next summer for its first U.S. wind farm will
be 23 miles off the coast.
Blue H's Norwegian competitor SWAY is using a different combination of
offshore platform technology and turbine design. SWAY's platform is, in essence,
a spar buoy that can rise and fall gently with wave action, thus requiring less
anchoring than the tension-leg platform. The buoy, a column nearly 200 meters
tall, will be held in place by a 2,400-ton gravel ballast on the seabed. Its
turbine is three-bladed, but in contrast to conventional onshore turbines, it is
allowed to face downwind rather than held upwind to better accommodate heeling
of the tower.
Paul Sclavounos, a mechanical engineer and a specialist in naval architecture
at MIT, whose lab is designing both kinds of structures for offshore turbines,
says that both companies have chosen viable flotation methods, although he
believes that the spar approach taken by SWAY will be better adapted to rougher
waters. He says that Blue H's platform may work off the Italian coast, but
anchoring it to handle the 30-to-40-meter waves that New England's storms can
whip up may not be economical. "The cost that really drives this business is
primarily the foundation," says Sclavounos.
Where he questions both firms is in their decision to redesign the wind
turbines. Sclavounos says that his group is designing both spars and platforms
to carry conventional five-megawatt turbines designed for onshore or
shallow-water offshore applications. "You don't want to redesign the turbines
for offshore deployment because that's going to be very expensive, and it's
probably not necessary early on," he says.
In Sclavounos view, the economics of the power industry are already
approaching a tipping point that will drive rapid adoption of floating turbines.
"The technology is essentially proven," he says. "We know we can design
[platforms] and spars that are not going to move in big storms. What is going to
lead to this industry taking off will be the economics. When carbon-emissions
trading markets start maturing, you're going to see this industry take off, even
without state subsidies. We're not far from it."
3) Top Ten Tech
John Voelcker, IEEE Spectrum, April 8, 2008
When a sexy silver Ferrari F430 Spider has “Bio
Fuel” emblazoned on the doors in bright green, you know the world has changed.
Yet that was the sight at a major auto show early this year. As one industry
commentator put it, “Green is the new black.”
Consider that Europe is debating not whether to
cut carbon emissions from vehicles but simply when to do it and by how much. The
average new car on Europe's roads now emits roughly 160 grams of carbon dioxide
per kilometer; the European Commission proposed last year to lower that to 130
g/km by 2012. But Europe's carmakers seem likely to have missed a voluntary 2008
target of 140 g/km.
This issue has pitted French and Italian
specialize in small, fuel-efficient cars—against German manufacturers, who could see many of their
luxury and sports-car products become problematic. Now a staggered set of
weight-based limits may be instituted, and the deadline may be pushed all the
way to 2015.
Carbon emissions are becoming a standard
automotive benchmark in Europe and parts of Asia, but North American car buyers
remain almost entirely unaware of them. To reflect the global discussion,
IEEE Spectrum has included whatever numbers on vehicle CO2
emissions we could obtain from the manufacturers.
Many of this year's innovations center on
combustion-engine technology—Ford's EcoBoost turbocharged gasoline direct-injection
engines, Mazda's tiny Miller-cycle engine, BMW's centrally mounted twin
turbochargers. Then there's the diesel engine, which appears set for a revival
following the fuel-economy regulations enacted late last year in the United
States. Both European and Japanese carmakers are preparing to launch diesels in
North America over the next two to five years. Even though the engine requires
elaborate and costly emissions controls—like the Mercedes-Benz Bluetec system—to trap the great number of
fine particulates diesels emit, their lower fuel usage and CO2
emissions are unquestioned.
Will U.S. buyers go for diesels? No one
knows. It may be the industry's biggest open question.
The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is another
puzzle. General Motors is expressing quiet confidence that lithium-ion batteries
will clear the various hurdles needed for a late-2010 launch of its Chevrolet
Volt extended-range electric car, projected to have a 64-km range on electric
power alone. A plug-in version of GM's Saturn Vue Two-Mode Hybrid sport utility
is due on roughly the same schedule, with a 16-km range. Toyota, meanwhile,
abruptly changed its tune on plug-ins, launching a test fleet of Priuses
converted to plug-in operation. It's a conversion that private customers have
been ordering, one car at a time, at small garages across the United States and
in other countries.
The trend extends even to China, where horrific
air pollution and increasing dependence on imported oil threaten to muffle the
country's economic boom. BYD Co., a Chinese battery company that claims to
supply two-thirds of the world's nickel-cadmium batteries and 30 percent of its
lithium-ion mobile-phone batteries, started making cars in 2002. In January it
demonstrated a plug-in hybrid sedan with a claimed electric range of 96 km,
which the company said would be offered for sale in small numbers—in China only—by the end of this year. That
said, fewer than 200 plug-in hybrid cars are on the world's roads.
Finally, the industry is doing something about
the weight of its products. Ford's EcoBoost V6 engine, for example, provides the
power and torque of a much larger V8 with better fuel economy, lower emissions,
and less weight. Even so, a fully accessorized EcoBoost weighs about half as
much as an entire Tata Nano, from India, which at US $2500 is cheaper than the
options packages for many cars. That low price, and planned production in the
millions, make the Nano easily the most important launch of the year. It is
feared by the global auto industry and eagerly awaited by millions of Indian
families, who now often travel in groups of four or five on a single scooter.
Ferrari performance at one-third the
In some ways, it's the antithesis of advanced
sports-car design. It's got an engine up front, with only two valves per
cylinder, and those valves are opened and closed with pushrods, just as they
were in engines a lifetime ago. Parts of the body are made of fiberglass, a
distinctly old-fashioned material compared with the aluminum, magnesium, and
carbon fiber used by the Corvette's competitors.
And yet, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 does one
thing very well: it carries two people as fast as possible, whether on straight
or winding roads. The Corvette is the only U.S. volume car with ceramic brake
rotors and a polycarbonate window in its hood that gives a peek at the
intercooler. Chevrolet's goals are simple: maximize power, minimize
Developed under the code name Blue Devil, the
ZR1 is built around a 6.2-liter aluminum V8 developing 462 kilowatts (620
horsepower) of power and 807 newton meters (595 footpounds) of torque. The
aluminum block has the dimensions of the classic Chevrolet small-block V8, but
this one is hand-built at a special engine shop with processes used only for
racing engines. For instance, a deck plate is installed on the aluminum block,
to simulate the pressure and minute dimensional differences created by the
cylinder heads, before the cast-iron cylinder liners are pressed into
A Roots-type supercharger crams air into the
engine via an intercooler, providing a denser dose of oxygen that's nevertheless
cooled down enough to fend off power-sapping premature combustion. Like most
supercharged engines, it can deliver close to peak power over a wide range of
engine speeds, from about 2500 revolutions per minute to 6600 rpm.
To handle all that power, the clutch uses a pair
of smaller discs rather than the single plate of other Corvettes. This spreads
the torque over a greater area and reduces inertia by 25 percent, letting the
engine spool up or down more quickly. As with the highest-performance German
cars, the ZR1's brake rotors are made of ceramic silicon carbide reinforced with
carbon fiber, which is less susceptible to the friction-induced changes that can
cause brake power to fade temporarily after repeated high-speed braking.
Ride control on the ZR1 employs a suspension of
magnetic particles in a fluid instead of mechanical shocks. The viscosity of the
fluid changes in response to a magnetic field, which varies every millisecond in
response to inputs from sensors providing data on speed, suspension, and road
The roof, hood, front fenders, rocker panels,
and some smaller parts are made of carbon fiber instead of steel, and the weight
saved offsets the heavier engine. The car weighs just 1520 kilograms (3351
Chevrolet hadn't released performance data by
press time, but it said the ZR1 is expected to be the first production Corvette
to exceed 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour). It's rumored that the
car accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than 3.5 seconds. The
factory did confirm that the cornering grip is more than 1 g—enough to make you feel twice
your weight in a perfectly banked curve. That's among the highest g-forces of
any production vehicle today.
At roughly US $100 000, the ZR1 bests cars
costing two to four times as much. It's the only U.S. vehicle that routinely
competes successfully in the fabled 24 Heures du Mans race, better known as Le
indeed for a car from Kentucky.
A plug-in hybrid with its own mobile
phone—and then some
This small and handsome Audi concept contains a
surprise that wowed the gadget lovers at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show: the
removable “Audi mobile device,” which combines elements of the iPhone, a key
fob, a media player, and a wireless security monitor.
You can make phone calls, view maps, listen to
music, and watch videos on the bright red device, but you can also unlock the
car, ensure you locked the doors, start the engine remotely (to warm it up on a
cold day), and view what's going on inside the car via an interior camera (in
case the kids—or
thieves—take it for
The Metroproject is one of several European
concept cars this year equipped with a plugin hybrid-electric
power train. Here, a lithiumion battery pack provides an electric range of up to 100
kilometers (62 miles) at a top speed of more than 100 km/h. The 1.4-liter engine
cuts in when the battery's charge falls below 20 percent of its
Multihole injectors deliver fuel directly into
the combustion chambers, and the turbo has been tuned to deliver power across
the range of engine speeds. This arrangement minimizes the “turbo lag” that
usually comes when the turbocharger spools up to a speed that's fast enough to
compress the air it delivers to the intake manifold. Audi claims that 80 percent
of the engine's peak torque is available from 1250 revolutions per
The Metroproject's Quattro all-wheel drive is
delivered by a combination of engine and motor. The combustion engine,
generating 240 newton meters (177 foot-pounds) of torque, drives the front
wheels; a 30-kilowatt (40 horsepower) electric motor, which adds 200 Nm (147
ft-lb), powers the rear wheels.
Audi says the hybrid system provides 15 percent
better fuel efficiency than you'd get by using the engine alone. With a top
speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) and acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in
7.8 seconds, the Metroproject is something of a “performance hybrid”—a concept that so far hasn't
proven popular in the United States, currently the largest market for hybrids of
Drivers can choose between “efficiency” and
“dynamic” configurations, which vary the control settings for throttle mapping,
shift points, suspension stiffness, and other systems. Such variable
personalities within the same car are another increasingly common feature in
concepts (and a few production vehicles). They offer the driver a choice among
profiles that combine different settings for the car's various electronic
control systems, usually maximizing fuel economy at one extreme and performance
at the other.
A new type of engine in a radical
reinterpretation of the big benz
Low and sleek, the styling of this highly
conceptual study for a future fullsize S-Class
Mercedes-Benz is almost as striking as its tiny power plant: a 1.8liter four-cylinder
engine that combines the advantages of diesel and spark-ignition engines while
avoiding the disadvantages peculiar to each.
First let's review: spark-ignition engines use a
spark plug to ignite a vapor of gasoline and air, compressed at a ratio of
perhaps 10:1, so that the burn starts at one end of the combustion chamber and
propagates to the other. Diesel engines compress the vapor to a much higher
25:1—so that it
combusts spontaneously, beginning at the edges and propagating inward.
The Mercedes design gets the best of both worlds
by exploiting a formerly wasted product: the exhaust gas left over from the
previous combustion cycle. That gas prewarms the incoming fuel-air mixture so
that it needs less compression to reach ignition temperature. There are two such
injections per cycle, and both require a very fine control of temperature and
When the piston reaches the top of its
compression stroke, at a ratio closer to a spark-ignition engine's than a
diesel's, the ignition begins spontaneously, not only at the edges of the
chamber but at many points throughout. The result is a complete, efficient burn
at temperatures too low for the formation of nitrous oxides—the diesel engine's Achilles'
heel. Although the new engine's combustion produces less torque than you'd get
from either a diesel or a spark-ignition engine, you'll never notice the lack
under partial load—when you're at cruising speed, for instance. When you do
need that torque, the engine operates just like its spark-ignition
This design is known in the industry as
homogeneous charge-compression ignition (HCCI), although Mercedes calls it
DiesOtto, in homage to Rudolph Diesel and Nikolaus Otto, who invented the diesel
and spark-ignition engines, respectively, in the 19th century. For many years
the idea was shelved because practical engine controls were lacking. Relentless
improvement in processing power, as quantified by Moore's Law, has now solved
The F700's engine includes two
turbos—a small one
for lower engine speeds, a large one for higher speeds—plus additional torque on
launch from an electric motor integrated into the transmission. There's also a
modification to the crankshaft, which the manufacturer doesn't spell out, that
makes it possible to vary the engine's compression ratio. (Other manufacturers
experimenting with HCCI engines, notably General Motors, make no such
The results are fairly startling. The carmaker
claims 190 kilowatts (255 horsepower) at maximum load from a mere 1.8-liter
four-cylinder engine while using only 5.3 liters per 100 kilometers (44 miles
per gallon) at cruising speeds—in a vehicle weighing 1700 kilograms (3748
The drawbacks? First, each cylinder needs its
own pressure transducer so that the engine controller can fine-tune the
combustion cycle, and those transducers are still very expensive. Second, the
torrent of data from those transducers and other sensors makes the logic in the
engine controller far more challenging.
In time, HCCI engines might be cheaper than
diesels to build because they don't need the structural reinforcement that makes
high-compression diesels heavier than conventional engines of equal power. They
can also dispense with the complex emissions-control systems (such as Mercedes's
Bluetec) that diesels need in order to meet California standards.
The F700 concept has a slew of other fascinating
features, from rear-hinged rear doors to its PreScan hydraulic active
suspension, which continuously processes optical data from the road ahead to
change its settings proactively.
The industry expects HCCI engines to make it
into production sometime between 2015 and 2020. This concept car could be the
basis of perhaps the least conservative model ever seen in the S-Class, the most
prestigious Mercedes line. Even in a world of rising oil prices and legislated
limits on carbon emissions, this daring vehicle shows that there's life left in
the combustion engine.
Meet FlexRay, the new high-speed
automotive data bus
Remember how magical the first antilock brakes
seemed, back in the 1980s, when they stopped your car smoothly with half the
wheels on ice and the other half on dry pavement? Those systems processed sensor
data a few times per second, feeding the information to a dedicated brake
controller. Compare that with today's cars, which process data from scores of
even include external factors, like vehicle proximity—and instantly crunch the
numbers with up to a dozen control systems, integrated by a vehicle controller.
Now consider tomorrow's car, which will be nothing less than a local area
network on wheels. For it, the relevant metric will be bandwidth.
The BMW X6 is the first production vehicle to
build in the next order of bandwidth, using a scheme called FlexRay, a
high-speed data bus developed by a consortium of carmakers and component
suppliers. FlexRay offers two communication channels, each with a data rate of
10 megabits per second, a 10- to 40-fold increase over current in-car
communications protocols, depending on how the system is implemented.
FlexRay ferries data among the components of
adaptive drive, a vastly enhanced descendant of yesteryear's automatic braking.
Instead of just detecting a wheel's traction, adaptive drive uses a central
controller to interpret sensor data on speed, steering angle, longitudinal and
lateral acceleration, body and wheel velocity, damper position, and other
criteria. The system controls body roll and adjusts the dampers to keep the
vehicle stable during virtually any maneuver.
The all-wheel-drive X6—which BMW calls a sports
activity coupe—doesn't stint on horsepower, either. It's offered with a
4.4-liter aluminum V8 that puts its twin turbochargers in a novel position. They
nestle between the Vshaped banks of the engine instead of hanging off the
exhaust manifolds outside the V. The scheme works because BMW has switched the
position of the manifolds and the air intakes, so that the exhaust gases flow
inside the Vformation and therefore need to travel just a few
centimeters to reach the vanes of the charger's turbine. This way, the exhaust
can spin the turbine up with less delay between stamping on the accelerator and
getting that extra turbo goodness.
To make that process possible, the company
developed turbochargers from materials that could operate in the hotter
environment between the banks, a virtual oven that continuously bakes the turbo
system at hundreds of degrees.
Another innovation is what BMW calls Dynamic
Performance Control, or DPC—one entry in an alphabet soup of electronic traction,
suspension, and engine control systems. The DPC controls the effects of a rear
differential that includes two planetary gear sets, each containing a central
gear (the “sun”) spun by engine torque. This sun is surrounded by planet gears
that are in turn housed in a ring gear that drives the individual wheel through
two clutch packs, allowing the controller to reduce or multiply torque to each
rear wheel individually to enhance steering, stability, and traction.
Possibly the world's most practical
The Nissan GT-R has always combined
pulse-quickening performance with technological innovation. It offered all-wheel
drive, four-wheel steering, and twin turbochargers many years before these
features could be had in lesser vehicles. This, the fifth generation since the
inception in 1969, is the first to be offered globally, including in the very
visible U.S. market.
The car's designers have always eschewed the V8
or V12 engines used in many of its twoseater rivals, instead
using twin turbochargers to squeeze out all the power it needs from six
cylinders. This year, though, they're set in “V” formation, a switch from the
prior model's inline six. The resulting 358 kilowatts (480 horsepower) of
power and 583 newton meters (437 footpounds) of torque are
even more impressive, considering that the car also qualifies for the
ultralow-emissions vehicle rating of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The engine sits aft of the frontwheel centers, and it
drives not a conventional attached gearbox but a rear transaxle containing a
dual-clutch transmission and transfer case, which then splits power among the
four wheels. The dual-clutch transmission assigns separate clutches for the odd
and even gears, letting it preselect the next highest and lowest gear for almost
That unusual arrangement lets Nissan achieve a
weight distribution of 53 percent front, 47 percent rear—close to the 50-50 ideal. The
all-wheel drive system offers a torque split ranging smoothly from 100 percent
rear to 50/50 front-rear. The driver can choose among three settings—Normal, Comfort, or R, for
ultimate handling—for several systems, including engine and transmission
mappings and suspension control. How often a GTR driver would select
Comfort is moot.
Nissan says the instrument panel display is
“video game–inspired,” not an unalloyed gain for those who prefer
drivers to focus on driving. As is fitting in a performance car, the panel shows
acceleration, brake-pedal pressure, and steering angle; it even records large
blocks of operating data, like the black box on a jetliner. When not showing
such data, the panel also controls the navigation system, audio equipment, and
mobile phone system.
Newer, better equipped…and
The latest Mazda2 (called the Demio in some
markets) has gotten more capacious, more capable, better equipped, and at 990
kilograms, 100 kg lighter—all at the same time. With one model that offers both
Mazda's Miller-cycle engine, this time in 1.3-liter form, and the company's
first continuously variable transmission, it begins to look like a very advanced
small car indeed.
The Miller cycle increases the efficiency of a
four-cycle “Otto” engine with a fifth cycle, by dividing the compression stroke
into two parts. In the first 20 to 30 percent of the stroke, the intake valves
are held open so the piston can push some of the fuel-air mixture out the door,
as it were. This leakage eases the load at a point when the piston's leverage is
at its worst. Then the standard procedure is to push the mixture back in again
using a supercharger—a compressor driven by the crankshaft—until the piston reaches a
mechanically more advantageous position in which to finish the compression.
Because this exploitation of mechanical advantage saves more energy than the
supercharger consumes, overall efficiency improves.
Mazda, however, dispenses with the supercharger,
instead minimizing the fuel-air leakage with variable valve timing and clever
tweaks to the combustion chamber. The company has also minimized the lower power
and torque of the Miller cycle. Compared with the conventional version of the
same engine, power is down just 1 kilowatt and torque declines just slightly, to
120 from 124 newton meters (89 footpounds).
Mazda says the 1.3-L Miller-cycle model uses
just 4.3 liters per 100 kilometers (55 miles per gallon) in the Japanese
fuel-economy cycle and cuts emissions to 75 percent below the old limits that
took effect in 2005. (It is also offered with a 1.5-L engine, and a 1.4-L diesel
in Europe.) The Mazda2 is not sold in the United States.
Ford is a part owner of Mazda, and so the car's
design is an early indicator of one element in Ford's “blueprint for
sustainability” to improve energy efficiency: make it lighter. Mazda slimmed the
car down even while meeting new crash-safety standards and adding hardware,
including entertainment gear and navigation systems. It did that by using
ultrahighstrength tensile steel and stronger welds to reduce
weight while improving rigidity. It also improved the coefficient of drag to
0.32, respectable for a car just 3.9 meters long but 1.5 meters high and 1.7
A stunning stereo, in a breathtaking
It's a striking, elegant departure, the first
Jaguar to break away from traditional styling cues in 40 years. It may be the
most important car in Jaguar's history, the one that must prove there's a future
for the storied marque after Ford sells it to Tata Motors, the Indian maker of
the lowest-priced car in the world (see “2009 Tata Nano”).
Of course, you wouldn't be reading this if the
XF were mere eye candy—its tech credentials are solid too. The interior fittings
emerge from hiding only when needed. When a driver gets in, the car senses the
proximity of the electronic key card and its “start” button pulses red. Pressing
the button causes the rotary gear selector to rise out of the console and into
the driver's hand. On first demonstration, you can almost hear Q of the James
Bond films saying, “Really, 007, just once I would like to get a car back in one
Similarly, passengers can't see the dashboard
vents until they wave their hands toward them, whereupon sensors trigger motors
that rotate the vents into place. Overhead lights and the glove-compartment lid
operate the same way. The goal is to reduce cabin clutter and increase the sense
of soothing calm for all occupants; soft phosphor blue “halo” lighting heightens
The wizards of Bowers & Wilkins, an
audiophile favorite in Worthing, England, planned the acoustics of this
high-speed concert hall. They worked alongside Jaguar's engineers, putting 14
custom-designed speakers in the optimal places. The larger speakers have
distinctive yellow Kevlar cones, for better linear response and reduced
distortion; the four tweeters carry aluminum transducer domes that cut the
weight of the one moving part, extending treble response an octave above that of
The 440-watt surround-sound system uses Dolby
logic in the remote amplifier, with the de rigueur inputs for personal MP3
players and USB storage devices, of course, all controlled through the car's
touch-screen display. The system continuously monitors interior noise, adjusting
its equalization to compensate.
Not all the tech goes toward creature comforts.
There's a system that uses radar to alert the driver to nearby vehicles he or
she can't see. The optional adaptive cruise control—quickly becoming a must-have on
the car a safe distance behind the one that's just ahead. And Jaguar also offers
an automatic speed limiter—handy for those already saddled with a few speeding
Re-creating the people's car
In January, some 100 years after Henry Ford
launched his Model T—the first car expressly designed for people of modest
did it all over again. The chairman of India's Tata Motors drove a white Nano
onto the stage at the Auto Expo in New Delhi, making good on the promise of a
1-lakh car (100 000 rupees, or about US $2500).
Like predecessor “people's cars” that put whole
nations on wheels—the Model T, Germany's Volkswagen Beetle, France's
Citroën 2CV, Italy's Fiat 500—it uses technology only where it's needed.
The basic model forgoes air-conditioning, power
steering, central locking, electric windows, a radio, a passenger-side mirror,
even sun visors and a second windshield wiper. Its 623cubic-centimeter
two-cylinder engine produces only 24 kilowatts (32 horsepower)—roughly the same as a midrange
motorcycle in the United States—and uses just a single balancer shaft to reduce
vibration. However, it does have multipoint fuel injection (rather than a less
precise carburetor), its exhaust is cleaned by a catalytic converter, and it is
said to meet current European emissions regulations. Top speed is quoted at
roughly 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour)—although one Indian auto
executive was quoted as saying that the wheel bearings will wear out quickly
above 75 km/h.
Breaking with classic economy-car design, the
3.1-meter-long Nano does not use a transverse front engine and front-wheel
drive. Instead, the engine is at the rear and under the floor, saving Tata
Motors the cost of fancy constant-velocity joints to drive wheels that must also
steer. Paradoxically, this allowed structural engineers to create a deeper front
crush zone. In a frontal collision, that zone deforms more progressively and
transfers energy throughout the frame, without thrusting a large lump of metal
into the laps of front-seat occupants.
The car has an all-steel structure and includes
such safety features as controlled-crush zones, side-intrusion barriers in the
doors, and seat belts—though not a single air bag. Tata says the car was
designed to pass international crash tests. Its weight of roughly 510 kilograms
(1124 pounds), though, means the 500-strong engineering team will have to have
done its calculations very carefully to achieve that goal. In a collision
between cars of varying weights, the lighter one almost always incurs more
So far, few if any reporters have even sat in a
Nano, let alone driven it. But Tata Motors has ambitious goals, saying it
expects to build 250 000 Nanos at a West Bengal plant in the car's first year of
production, and perhaps 1 million or more annually once the company begins
marketing them in developing nations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Tata Motors recently announced that it would develop a car capable of meeting
European emissions regulations and sell it in Europe within four
Unlike Henry Ford, Tata must contend with his
car's environmental impact. Only 7 of every 1,000 Indians now own cars; if that
percentage were to quadruple, say, it could increase air pollution and traffic
jams horrendously. Rejendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, in Geneva, has gone so far as to say that the Nano disturbs his
sleep. At the unveiling, though, Ratan Tata said that Pachauri “need not have
nightmares.” He noted that not only did the Nano meet all current Indian
emissions standards but that in many cases it might replace a two-stroke
scooter, which has far worse emissions.
At half the cost of the Maruti 800, currently
India's cheapest new car, the Nano offers millions—or shall we say
of personal mobility. If the company can deliver on its promises, Tata's Nano
could merit inclusion in a Top 10 Car list for all time.
Extreme fuel economy, the old-fashioned
Demonstrating that diesel engines really do save
fuel and cut greenhouse-gas emissions, Volkswagen's fuel-economy champ burns
just 3.8 liters per 100 kilometers (62 miles per gallon) and emits just 99 grams
per kilometer of carbon dioxide. That's far below the maximum fleet average of
130 g/km that the European community proposes to implement in upcoming
As Volkswagen often points out, it's also less
than the 104 g/km of CO2 that the Toyota Prius hybrid-electric
vehicle produces. The comparison's a bit unfair, because the Prius is the larger
car, but it underscores just how much can be wrung from a turbocharged diesel in
a car weighing less than 1100 kilograms (2425 pounds).
Starting with its standard 1.4liter three-cylinder
diesel engine, Volkswagen altered the direct injection mapping that squirts the
fuel into each cylinder. It also took advantage of the variable geometry of its
exhaust-driven turbine that crams air into the combustion chamber. At low engine
speeds, the turbo output passes through a smaller port to provide higher
pressure until the engine revs up to full speed, when the port enlarges to keep
the turbo's boost consistent.
It's worth noting that the Polo would not comply
with North American emissions standards in its current form, even though it's
fitted with a diesel particulate filter. But the 59-kilowatt diesel's high
torque of 195 newton meters (144 footpounds) and top speed
of 176 km/h (109 mph) make the Polo usable in all kinds of traffic. The gearbox
uses higher ratios than other Polos, to reduce engine speed at a given road
speed. And Volkswagen fitted unique front body panels—grille and front
fascia—to lower the
car's wind resistance at speed.
The first Polo BlueMotion, launched in the
summer of 2006, consumed 3.9 L/100 km (60 mpg) and emitted 102 g/km of
CO2. For the 2008 model year, VW added tires with low rolling
resistance and a number of further aerodynamic tweaks. The modifications brought
the coefficient of drag down to 0.30—a challenge on such a small, square car—and improved on both of those
numbers. And not a single advanced battery pack or electric-drive motor was
needed. (Hedging its bets, VW showed a Golf concept with a diesel engine and
full hybrid system at the March Geneva Motor Show that it said used a mere 3.4
L/100 km, or 69 mpg.)
Ford teams up with Microsoft to take on
This glass-roofed, full-size Lincoln sedan
offers the latest release of Sync, Ford's entertainment and mobile
communications system, and it will also pioneer a brand-new fuel-efficient
Codeveloped by Microsoft and Ford (which has a
North American exclusive until the end of 2008), the current version of Sync
coordinates entertainment, navigation, and mobile phone systems using
voice-activated commands in English, Spanish, and French. Its Bluetooth wireless
connection is said to work with virtually any Bluetooth phone and includes the
transfer of ringtones and phone-book contents. Sync will thus play the ringtone
associated with a specific caller, which can be heard through the car's
speakers. Web-equipped phones can even stream audio to the sound system.
Sync's USB 2.0 port lets MP3 players and other
devices recharge themselves and transfer files to a built-in hard drive, as well
as a standard audio input jack. It reads aloud incoming text messages and
e-mail, although it can't convert spoken responses back to text. Users can
control the system by speaking to it, which lets them make calls without
touching the phone—
crucial wherever it's against the law to use handheld devices while
Ford says the second release of Sync, due out
this summer, will offer a host of new information within its navigation system
as a separate option. The Sirius Travel Link subscription service will provide
real-time news on traffic conditions in 78 U.S. markets as well as five-day
weather updates, local fuel prices, movie listings, and other data via satellite
Another feature, known as 911 Assist, puts Sync
into direct competition with General Motors' OnStar system. It automatically has
the driver's cellphone dial a 911 emergency service dispatcher whenever the
vehicle's air bags deploy, unless the driver cancels the call in 10 seconds.
Sync will be available on almost all Ford models by the end of this year. More
than 1 million Sync-equipped cars are expected to be on the road next
Within a year of its launch this summer, the MKS
will acquire its second innovation: Ford's EcoBoost engine, in 3.5-liter V6
form. Combining gasoline direct injection with a turbocharger, the V6 delivers
power and torque at least equivalent to the company's 4.6-L V8, which breathes
without any such respiratory assistance. Because it's so much smaller, though,
it will realize a 10 to 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, and it will
emit up to 15 percent less carbon dioxide.
Injecting the gasoline directly into the
cylinder produces a cooler, denser charge, delivering better performance than
conventional port injection, where the fuel is injected into air in the intake
manifold. Adding a turbocharger specifically tuned for direct injection gives
newton meters (339 foot-pounds) versus 365 to 420 Nm for the V8—across a broad range of engine
speeds. That delivers power when it's needed with fewer gear changes.
Ford is far from being the first carmaker to use
direct injection and turbos, but this is the first time such an engine has been
offered in volume to U.S. family-car buyers. The company has aggressive plans to
roll out EcoBoost on both four- and six-cylinder designs, and it expects to be
building half a million such engines within five years.
To Probe Further
See our slideshow: Green Machines: This year's top tech cars
squeezing more performance from less fuel than before, leaving a smaller carbon
Listen to our audio presentation, "Top 10 Tech Cars for