by Jim Kerr

January marks the start of the auto show season. While the emphasis is on style and new models, technology is also a highlight of many manufacturer’s presentations. Some of the technology is shown as a concept – still in development and for a variety of reasons may never see actual production. Other technology is available in the latest models. It may be cosmetic, such as Ford’s Mustang dash display or it could provide better quality and cost efficiencies such as GM’s new Kappa platform architecture. Here is a quick look at a couple of the technologies presented at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

2005 Ford Mustang colour-configurable gauges
Click image to enlarge

The 2005 Mustang has a retro look but uses the latest technology and electronics for design, construction, operation and accessories. While the designers were studying the Mustang market, they noted that many Mustang owners were already customising their car’s interior and gauges. With that in mind, they used a relatively simple but neat technology to allow new Mustang owners to customise the colour of the dash display on the new 2005 Mustang.

Dean Nowicki, Ford Mustang electrical engineering team leader said “The concept display was intended to offer choices, and we just decided we wanted all of the colours.” How about 125 different colours! Now Mustang owners can pick an instrument cluster colour that matches or compliments their car’s interior or exterior, and could even be set to display the driver’s mood. Blue gauges? Somebody is sad. Hot red gauges? Maybe somebody is filled with energy! The possibilities are endless.

Three light-emitting diodes, red, green and blue are used to light the instrument cluster. Since LEDs cannot be dimmed like conventional bulbs, the intensity of the three LEDs is controlled by pulse width modulation, which turns each LED on and off rapidly, making the switching undetectable to the human eye. By changing the intensity of each LED, the blend of light from the three LEDs combines to make the multitude of colours. From the LED module, the light from each LED is guided by fiber optics into acrylic light pipes on the side of the gauges. Here, the light blends into six pre-defined colours: blue, purple, white, orange
green, and red or can be further customised to the driver’s preference.

The colour-configurable gauges are operated through buttons on the driver information centre – this feature comes automatically when the optional information centre package is installed. This may not be earth shattering technology, but it is neat and would be especially useful to those drivers that are partially colour blind like some of my friends. It also looks like a fun way to customise your new Mustang.

Chrysler announced some new technology for their Hemi engines in the 2005 Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum RT. They call it a Multi-Displacement System (MDS) and it deactivates cylinders on the engine when they are not needed. MDS converts the powerful Hemi 8-cylinder engine into a high fuel economy four cylinder engine or back again and it does it in just 40 milliseconds. By switching from 8 cylinders to 4 cylinder operation when the power is not needed, fuel economy is improved by up to 20 percent. Average fuel economy gains will likely be closer to about 10 percent. Step on the throttle and the engine instantly switches on all the cylinders for full power.

2005 Chrysler 300C
2005 Chrysler 300C
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Two technological features enable this to happen. The first is Electronic Throttle Control. The computer changes the throttle opening at the same time it switches cylinder operation. Drivers will not notice any surges or change in the feel of the engine. There is just power when needed.

The second feature is valve lifters that can be deactivated. When the computer deactivates the lifters, the valves stop opening. Energy is not lost by pumping air through these cylinders. Combustion is stopped and fuel to those cylinders is turned off. “The MDS was part of the engine’s original design,” said Bob Lee, Vice President Powertrain Product Team, Chrysler Group. The Hemi engine with MDS has completed over 6.5 million customer-equivalent miles of testing in Chrysler’s development centres and is covered by their 7-Year/115,000 km Limited Powertrain warranty.

The 2005 Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum RT go on sale in the spring of 2004. MDS technology will give owners the improved fuel economy of a smaller engine and the power of a 5.7 litre V8, all without changing any driving habits. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

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