Dana eyes independent suspensions

Dana Corp., whose experience in driveline components for off-road vehicles dates back to World War II military Jeeps, is banking on the trend toward car-like independent suspensions in now-popular sport/utility vehicles and other light trucks and so-called "crossover" vehicles to generate new opportunities.

Automotive Systems Group President William Carroll tells WAW that the trend dovetails with Dana's growing role as a major supplier of chassis modules such as the self-contained "rolling chassis" it supplies to DaimlerChrysler Corp. for the Dodge Dakota in Brazil.

"I think we'll see a lot more independent suspensions" in SUVs and other light truck segments, likely in combination with all-wheel drive, Mr. Carroll says.

It's understood that GM is seeking quotes for the new Saturn "crossover" vehicle boasting AWD or 4WD combined with independent suspension, which is expected to move into production in the 2002-2004 time frame.

Mr. Carroll also sees a bright future for hydroformed frames and chassis components. Dana supplies the hydroformed engine cradle on the '99 Ford Windstar. Hydroformed structures are produced by forcing water into a steel cavity under high pressure.

Visteon launches Japanese voice command

Visteon Automotive Systems this year will begin offering a Japanese-language version of its voice activated control system. An English version was launched earlier this year on the new Jaguar S-Type that allows hands-free control of the cellular phone, audio system and climate control. The system also is used in the Buick Cielo concept car. The technology allows the user to speak commands in a normal voice. Visteon demonstrated a Japanese version of the technology at SAE. Visteon also plans to offer the system later this year in Spanish, French, German and Italian.

ETAS speeds engine controller development

ETAS Engineering Tools says its simulation and prototyping tools can help engine developers design, test and implement new engine controls in less than half the time with half the manpower than conventional methods.

Stuttgart-based ETAS says that in a pilot program, U.K.-based engine engineering specialists Ricardo was able to take a blank engine controller, program it, test it, place it on a car and calibrate it within six months with only three full-time engineers.

The company claims that using conventional methods, Ricardo would have to employ six full-time engineers for 12 months in order to complete the program. Key to the software tools is the ability to automatically generate software C-code, eliminating the need for engineers to write it by hand.

New kind of pickup war

DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. already are battling it out for pickup buyers in the U.S. And if a program to replace cargo/troop carriers is approved by the U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command Center in Warren, MI, the Dodge Ram and/or Ford F-350 Super Duty may see action on a real battlefield.

With an aging inventory that needs to be replaced with a shrinking post-Cold War budget, the U.S. Army is considering commercial pickups for its light tactical transportation needs, perhaps by the '03 model year. The program includes Ford, DC and AM General. The U.S. Army needs about 50,000 units.

General Motors Corp. reportedly dropped out to focus on the launch of its GMT800 full-size pickups.

3M intros next-gen Thinsulate

3M says this summer it will launch a new generation of Thinsulate for automotive applications that will be lighter and more cost effective but offer even better sound absorption than the current material.

Thinsulate got its start as a thermal insulator for clothing and now is being used as a sound absorber in 13 vehicle applications worldwide, the supplier says. Among those are door panels for the '99 Mercedes M-Class and the Bose sound system for the '99 Cadillac Seville. 3M predicts use of Thinsulate will continue to grow as automakers lighten vehicles and as consumers demand quieter interiors.

The company also says it expects increasing application for its Filtrete cabin air filters, which now can eliminate odors such as diesel exhaust and industrial fumes inside the vehicle cabin.

GM features the Filtrete system on its front-drive minivans (Chevrolet Venture/Pontiac Montana/Olds Silhouette). An estimated 60% of new cars in Europe are equipped with an air filtration system. Penetration is about 20% in North America, the company says.

Continental moves to capitalize on ITT

Hubertus von Gruenberg, chairman of the Executive Board of Continental AG, spiced up an otherwise listless Blue Ribbon panel discussion on the first day of SAE with his observations of German and American engineers.

He noted, for instance, that American engineers are more willing to take chances and fail, while German engineers are intensely focused on process, to the point of being "scientifically obsessed with perfection."

Later, he spoke with WAW about technology within Continental AG after its acquisition last year of ITT Automotive's brake and chassis division. A few highlights:

n Run-flat tires. Self-sealing tires are not acceptable longer-term to automakers because "in some percentage of incidents the tires can't 'heal,'" he says, including sidewall punctures. Continental's solution is a light metal "safety ring" resting on a flexible support mounted inside the wheel rim, keeping the tire from going entirely flat regardless of damage. Drivers can travel another 125 miles (200 km) before changing tires, he says.

n ISAD (integrated starter alternator damper), now in pre-production, combines the starter and alternator with a damping device in a single unit. Besides reducing engine vibration, ISAD permits noise-free starting and reduces production costs.

Overhead audio coming soon

The 50-50 joint venture between Lear Corp. and Donnelly Corp. introduces Overhead Audio System (OASys), which uses lightweight, flat-panel "sound zones" in the headliner to eliminate bulky conventional cone speakers.

The sound zones - 16 on a current prototype - send vibrations throughout the headliner, effectively turning the entire unit into one big speaker.

Lear-Donnelly Overhead Systems has a licensing agreement to use a West Coast company's flat-panel speakers, which are the size of a compact disc, weigh a few ounces, and are less than 0.25-in. thick. By eliminating four conventional speakers, Lear-Donnelly can trim about 10 lbs. (4.5 kg.) per vehicle and offer significant space savings. A subwoofer is still in development.

The company says the system could appear in a luxury car as early as the '03 model year. Lear rival Johnson Controls Inc. says it expects to have an overhead sound system in a production vehicle around '02 or sooner.

Lear also introduces TransG, an interior concept designed for aging Baby Boomers. The package includes swivel front seats for easy ingress/egress, lower step-up height, collapsible cart in the rear cargo area and a U-shaped steering wheel to afford an unobstructed view of the instrument panel, which also has larger numbers and symbols.

Motorola: chips, please

Motorola says surging demand for its new MPC 555 microcontroller could push volumes into the hundreds of millions a year.

The PowerPC-based Motorola chip will cram the computing power to run both transmission and engine systems into one chip and make it durable enough to be mounted right on the engine.

The new chip is designed to allow updates of the software in the control unit even when the engine is as warm as 1251/2F (521/2C). The flash memory on the chip can be erased and re-written several times. Other applications include body electronics, suspension and active chassis control.

Contracts are in the works for the chip with 13 European and nine U.S. customers - both automakers and module builders.

TRW, Motorola pitch network standard

In addition to a new plant in Toledo (see Pipeline, p.53), TRW Inc. announces a partnership with Motorola to develop a network architecture standard to simplify integration of next-generation occupant safety systems.

The Distributed Systems Interface allows sensors and actuators throughout the vehicle to be linked with a simple two-wire bus that provides both power and communications. More than a dozen wires for air bags, sensors and seat-belt tensioners are eliminated.

The architecture will be available by the '02 model year, when "smart" air bags are expected in at least 25% of North American vehicles, with the penetration expected to reach 100% by '05. A link for plug-and-play appliances also could be added to the network.

TRW and Motorola will promote the system as a standard available to third-party adopters without royalty or licensing fees.