Washington D.C .桾he government-industry effort to produce an ultra-efficient family car is making progress in all four of its chief areas of research, where auto designers are reaping technology benefits.
The official name of the "Supercar" project, launched in 1993, is the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV)-a joint undertaking by America's Big Three automakers, government agencies, and university labs to develop by 2004 a safe, low-emissions sedan that gets the equivalent of at least 80 mpg.
Progress of PNGV research was the topic of a conference this spring in Washington, DC. Here the three automakers displayed their latest hybrid-electric concept models that evolved from the program: the Dodge ESX3 from DaimlerChrysler, the Precept by General Motors, and Ford's Prodigy.
PNGV has been concentrating its current R & D on direct-injection engines, fuel cells, lightweight materials, and electric-traction systems for both hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.
Among engine successes is the development of an advanced piezoelectric injector that permits precise control of the amount and rate of fuel injection. This has opened the way for experimentation on methods of fuel injection directly into the cylinder-a proposed way of improving fuel economy and reducing emissions and noise.
The hybrid electric propulsion system on Ford's Prodigy includes an aluminum DIATA (Direct Injection, Aluminum Through Bolt Assembly) engine, a starter/alternator, a high-power battery, and a transmission that shifts automatically but has the efficiency of a manual shift.
In fuel cell technology, PNGV researchers fruitfully tested a microchannel gasoline vaporizer unit that is only 3.5 inches. Pressure dropped less than 2 psi through the microchannels.
Also, engineers at GM's Global Alternative Propulsion Center recently demonstrated repeated freeze and quick start-up performance of GM fuel stacks down to -20C.
In PNGV research on lightweight materials, the Multimatic aluminum and polymer composite body weighs only 198 lbs compared with 629 lbs for the conventional structural shell of a car. Technicians completed static and validation testing on the body and barrier crash tested it at 30 mph.
For electric traction systems, the Department of Energy has picked two teams to research, develop, and demonstrate an automotive electric motor drive. Delphi Automotive is pursuing a 325V ac induction motor system, while Delco Remy is investigating a 132V dc brushless configuration. Final reports on the motor designs are due in 2002.
Some PNGV technology already is finding its way into conventional autos. DaimlerChrysler is going into production with a new lightweight, low-cost, recyclable thermoplastic that it plans to use on next year's Jeep Wrangler hardtops.
By 2004 Ford intends to start producing a hybrid vehicle that will get 20 to 50% better mileage than similar vehicles that run on gas alone. GM engineers, meanwhile, are designing hybrid trucks and buses as well as cars.
Commenting on the momentous task of PNGV research, DaimlerChrysler president Jim Holden says, "We're essentially inventing a new way to make automobiles."