Vehicle of the Future is Being Shaped by Today’s Technology

AASHTO Journal, 28 October 2011

DETROIT — What technologies will be included in the vehicle of the future? Automotive industry competitors Ford Motor Company and General Motors joined forces Oct. 16, at the AASHTO Annual Meeting, in Detroit, Michigan, to try and answer that question.The session, “Vehicle of Future: Greener, Safer, and Smarter,” was moderated by Kirk Steudle, AASHTO president and director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, and included panelists from commercial electric truck manufacturer Smith Electric Vehicles and PMJ Interconnection, a provider of electric charging stations. The industry experts shared information about Intelligent Vehicle Technology, which is designed to prevent automobile collisions, and efforts underway at their companies to reduce green house gas emissions through the electrification and hybridization of motor vehicles.

Eric Eiswerth, a 23-year company veteran, is the Safety Research Project Manager for Ford. He told the audience of about 35 transportation stakeholders from across the country that his company is researching, developing, and field testing Intelligent Vehicle Technology that allows automobiles to transmit and receive information from a variety of sources.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications have the potential to address 82% of the vehicle crash scenarios involving unimpaired drivers,” said Eiswerth.

“With this technology, vehicles will be able to avoid collisions because drivers will have the ability to detect near-by vehicles hidden from view. Cars located in a vehicle’s blind spot, on the opposite side of a hill, in a traffic circle, or in a busy intersection can now detect when they are about to collide and automatically brake or slow down, to keep occupants safe.”

Eiswerth said intersection crashes that involve a traffic signal violation account for about 1,200 fatalities a year. Stop sign violation crashes account for about 1,500 fatalities annually.

When vehicles communicate with infrastructure, such as sensors located in roadways, they can respond quickly to real time surface conditions, preventing crashes due to slippery conditions caused by rain or ice. Vehicles stuck in congestion can also transmit messages through a variety of methods to traffic control centers, which can be used to alert drivers to seek alternate routes.

Eiswerth said Ford is working separately with university researchers and, as a group with other automobile manufacturers, to develop the next generation of Intelligent Vehicle Technology. He estimates that the initial research will be completed by 2013.

Bill Wallace, director of global battery systems engineering for General Motors, said GM’s goal is using electrification technologies to ultimately displace petroleum.

“Petroleum currently supplies 35% of the world’s energy,” said Wallace. “And 96% of that energy is used for transportation. We are now at a point where battery technology is allowing manufacturers to offer consumers an affordable alternative.”

Prior to the introduction of the Chevy Volt, Wallace said there were two groups of alternative vehicles: the hybrid electric vehicle and the battery electric. The Volt is considered to be in a new category — extended range electric vehicle — because it uses both electricity and petroleum.

Wallace said his research determined that 78% of Americans commute 40 miles or less daily, which is within the range of electric vehicles and hybrids. What happens if commuters need to drive more than 40 miles? That concern, said Wallace, is something called “range anxiety.”

“This is why we at GM decided to build the Chevy Volt,” said Wallace. “It’s an extended range. It can travel up to 300 miles. Electrification has changed GM.”

Bryan Hansel, president and CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles, which has an 80-year history of producing electric commercial trucks in the United Kingdom, said government incentives are needed to make his vehicles more attractive to public and private sector customers.

“Our commercial electric trucks are 80% more efficient than their diesel counterparts” said Hansel, who acknowledged that Smith Electric Vehicles cost more than commercial diesel trucks on the market today.

“When we talk to businesses, they’re talking the bottom line, they’re not talking about environmental impact, creating jobs, or going green,” said Hansel. “If incented properly now, these commercial electric vehicles will live in an incentive-free world within five years.”

Smith Electric, which produces a variety of commercial trucks, announced it will unveil its first all-electric school bus in the next few months.

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