If you love cars “electronics” isn't the first word that pops into your brain when you're talking about powertrains. But lets face it, today's most glorious engines — in fact, any new engine at all — can't sputter out its first exhaust note without the help of sophisticated electronics under the hood.

That's why organizers of the bi-annual Convergence conference are devoting four sessions to powertrain issues Oct. 19 and 20 at Cobo Center in Detroit, covering new technology and even some consumer-oriented issues.

Convergence is a major global automotive electronics forum held every other year in Detroit, and it deals with a wide variety of topics. This year's conference, scheduled for Oct. 18-20, will feature 86 white papers, 15 technical sessions, three panel discussions, as well as numerous high-level keynote speakers, including Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO William Clay Ford Jr.

Many of the sessions focus on topics you would expect, covering nitty-gritty hardware and software issues, but engines get a surprisingly deep dive as well.

The general powertrain session, which will be chaired by BMW AG and vice-chaired by General Motors Corp., starts with the premise that “Powertrain systems are the vehicle's most sophisticated application of auto electronics.” It explores emerging technologies, solutions and trends.

Other powertrain-focused sessions:

Digitally Driving Increases Consumer Value examines how advanced electronics are increasing consumer value through improved vehicle capabilities and performance. It also will look at upcoming electronic applications to vehicle chassis systems, powertrain, safety systems and engine management.

Regulatory and Environmental Impacts will tackle what role powertrain electronics will play as auto makers and suppliers develop advanced powertrains in an effort to deal with energy independence, fuel economy and emissions issues.

Systems Architecture: Physical Structures also is related to powertrain issues, organizers say. The session looks at optimizing electrical system architectures and where future concepts could focus, whether on optimum car architecture, systems or physical module structures.

In addition to covering more general areas of concern, such as telematics induced driver-distraction issues (see Sept. WAW, p. 23), Convergence also tackles difficult product-development issues related to coping with the vastly different product lifecycles of vehicles vs. electronics.

Many consumers keep their vehicles six, seven, eight years or more, and a typical car or truck product cycle usually is at least four years. That makes it difficult for auto makers to keep up with the swiftly moving electronics industry.

“Electronic product innovation curves have shortened and vehicle life expectations have lengthened. To continue the benefits of convergence and meet consumer demand, both industries must move to reconcile these diverging trends,” says Gerhard Schmidt, Ford Motor Co. vice president — Research and Advanced Engineering and chairman of this year's conference.

Three sessions and about 18 papers will address how auto makers and suppliers can cope with this dilemma.

Ward's AutoWorld will provide daily coverage of the conference with show dailies and on WardsAuto.com.

Conference details and registration information are available online at: www.convergence2004.org.