Almost invariably, buyers who have the most to spend for new vehicles are the first to get the latest gadgets - the electric windows and sunroofs of the 1970s, the antilock brakes and air bags of the 1980s, the heated seats and dual climate controls of the 1990s.
But once in a while, a technology comes along that belongs to the masses, one that actually makes more sense on the everyday car - driven long distances for work and family chores - than it does for that shiny luxury car that gets a wax and buff every week and spends its weekends at swanky resorts.
In Europe, where filling up the tank with petrol is more than three times more expensive than in the United States, the hot new technology as the 1990s end is gasoline direct injection, or GDI, althoughMotors Corp. has a patent on that particular acronym.
There's hardly any current GDI market share in Europe, but by 2005, 40% of spark-ignition engines there are expected to employ GDI, compared with 39% in Japan and 5% in North America, based on projections from supplier RobertGmbH.
Most GDI systems also have a "common rail" and a high-pressure pump to deliver precisely metered fuel to all injectors, reducing fuel consumption by 15% or more and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Motors Corp. pioneered the GDI concept, but in the U.S. the technology is slower to take off because GDI engines operate in a lean combustion mode and, as a result, emit higher levels of oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
In Europe, emissions standards are not as stringent with regard to NOx, so it's a good market for the technology. In addition, gasoline direct injection offers the biggest advantage for small cars with small displacement engines, and Europe has plenty of those.
So it makes sense that two of Europe's most prominent suppliers -Bosch and Siemens AG - come to market with GDI systems on new vehicles sold in their home market.
Bosch's engine management system, known as Motronic MED 7, appears on the aluminum-intensiveLupo, due out in early 2000, with a 1.4L 4-cyl. engine that achieves the European objective of 3L/100 km in fuel economy, about 80 mpg.
Bosch says its system emits lower NOx than conventional gasoline engines with the help of computer-controlled exhaust gas recirculation. NOx storage catalytic converters can be used to ensure conformity with future emissions limits, the company says.
GDI engines use a special stratification of the air/fuel mixture to run very lean. While other GDI systems usually operate in the stratified charge mode only at low speed and light load, Bosch says its system can operate in stratified charge mode during more than 70% of the European drive cycle.
Siemens beats Bosch by unveiling its system on theMegane coupe and cabriolet models this fall. The company says it is developing further applications with other automakers. As part of the system, Siemens says it can deliver the world's first NOx sensor for use in automobiles.
The advantages of GDI go beyond fuel consumption to include enhanced engine performance and reduced costs in vehicle production, Siemens says.
For the two European vehicle launches, the direct injection systems are expected to improve fuel economy by at least 15%, and both vehicles are high-volume models for the buyer on a budget. The Lupo is a small city car, while the Megane,'s best seller, is slightly larger.
So why won't wealthy European buyers find such breakthrough technology on their7-series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class? Because, frankly, they can easily afford the second mortgage to fill up the tank. Fuel economy isn't an issue.
In addition, GDI offers less-meaningful advantage for large-displacement engines in big luxury cars.
Siemens and Bosch proudly displayed their GDI systems in September at the Frankfurt motor show in Germany. And while they are the first European manufacturers to supply GDI on production vehicles, Mitsubishi already is selling the GDI Carisma in Europe.
Delphi Automotive Systems, which also is pursuing the technology aggressively, installed its own gasoline direct injection system on a Carisma demo nstration vehicle to show potential customers. The world's largest supplier has a European customer for its GDI system for model year 2002 or 2003, sources say.
Delphi recently announced an investment in its technical center in Henrietta, NY, to support GDI product development. In March, the company won a contract to develop and supply a GDI engine management system for a future GM vehicle.
And, for the record, GDI does not stand as the only example of upscale technology appearing first on lower-end vehicles. The new and inexpensiveEcho, marketed to young buyers, has sophisticated variable valve timing.
The 2000 models will sport a number of other innovative supplier technologies.
The Lincoln LS sport sedan has a fully independent suspension with a short-long arm design for the front and rear. Tower Automotive does much of the rear suspension, while Hayes Lemmerz International of Romulus, MI, supplies the aluminum steering knuckles, as well as the aluminum underbody and transmission cross-members.
Likewise, Hayes Lemmerz provides the same components for the LS's sibling, the Jaguar S-Type sedan. The newest Jag also sports a voice-activated module supplied by Visteon Automotive Systems. Press a "voice" button on the steering wheel, and the driver can give vocal commands for audio, climate control and telephone.
Inside the LS, Johnson Controls Inc. moves a step closer to single-sourcing an entire interior. The company supplies seats, overhead systems, door panels, floor consoles and other interior trim.
On another Lincoln offering, the 2000 model year Navigator, JCI will supply a seat that is not only heated but cooled as well. The Climate Control Seat, developed in partnership with California-based Amerigon Inc., has active temperature controls for heating, cooling and ventilation. JCI says it will be the first company to produce such a system.
The 2000 Plymouth Prowler, which arrives in a new color (silver), also gets automatic-dimming rearview mirrors supplied by Gentex Corp. The mirror is linked with the vehicle's on-board computer system to display certain information to the driver.
The Prowler's mirror can display the outside temperature, vehicle directional heading, average fuel economy, distance to empty, instantaneous fuel economy, trip odometer and elapsed trip time. The mirror also has LED (light emitting diode) map lamps, which serve as the Prowler's interior cabin lighting.
With a feature like this, Prowler becomes more like a luxury car or high-end sport/utility vehicle than a sporty roadster.
The 2000Taurus and Mercury Sable will feature a dashboard with a new coverstock that eliminates veiling glare, which occurs when sunshine causes the dashboard to reflect on the windshield and can impair a driver's vision.
O'Sullivan Corp. of Winchester, VA, developed the new coverstock, which incorporates a low-gloss coating and a textured grain to diffuse and refract the shine off the top of the dashboard. O'Sullivan also is supplying the instrument panel coverstock for the Buick Regal produced by Shanghai Yanfeng Automotive in China.
For 2000, the Oldsmobile Intrigue becomes the first moderately priced midsize sedan to offer the new Precision Control System for greater vehicle stability in emergency maneuvers.
The fully automatic system, supplied by Bosch, includes four-wheel speed sensors, steering angle sensor, integrated yaw sensor and a hydraulic control unit. The systems are becoming common on high-end luxury cars.
Johnson Controls supplies seats and overhead consoles for the mammoth newExcursion, while competitor Lear Corp. supplies seats for the 2000 Ford F-150 fullsize pickups built in Kansas City, MO.
AG selects Dana Corp. to supply the first hydraulic clutch actuation systems to be used in its compact cars. Dana also will supply brake boosters, wheel cylinders and brake hoses for VW's 2000 to 2003 compact car models. The contract is worth $40 million to Dana, which will manufacture the products in Germany, Mexico and Brazil. Dana also supplies the main driveshaft for the new Xterra SUV.
& Mfg. Inc. begins production of steering linkages for Motor Mfg. Corp., a new customer, for its Frontier pickup truck for 2000.
manufactures the linkages at its plant in Buffalo, NY, and ships them to Nissan's Smyrna, TN, assembly plant. Volume will exceed 100,000 units annually.