Troy, MI-If you want a glimpse of what's coming around the bend in tomorrow's cars, check out the website of Delphi Automotive (www.delphiautomotive.com).
As the world's largest automotive supplier, with some 16,000 engineers and technicians at more than 30 locations, Delphi is driving innovation in virtually every aspect of cars.
"Our two biggest challenges are meeting the varied expectations of the auto OEMs and staying abreast of what consumers want in cars five and ten years from now," says Andrew Brown, director of Engineering for Delphi.
Under its Nextech program, for example, Delphi is probing technologies that may seem exotic but a decade from now could be standard. Among them:
Safety enhancements. Brown sees these as the top consumer priority, given the growing concerns about "driver distraction." They include such developments as 360-degree collision avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control to maintain safe distances between vehicles, and adaptive restraint technologies that trigger optimum airbag deployment in crashes.
Energy/environment. Among innovations in its Energen program is a belt-driven, stop-start generator that improves fuel economy by 5%. Powerful integrated motor-generators will also allow smaller engines, while maintaining performance, improving fuel economy, and reducing emissions.
X-By-Wire. This family of braking, steering, throttle, and suspension systems relies on a network of wires, sensors, controllers, motors, and actuators to replace the traditional mechanical systems. A side development for these X-By-Wire systems, which will offer increased performance and greater design flexibility, is a shift to a 42V architecture.
Comfort and Connectivity. These run the gamut from a one-touch adjustable steering column and multi-zone climate control to voice recognition systems, "Infotainment PC," and navigation assistance.
"Of course, some of these innovations will be pioneered in luxury cars," notes Brown, "but many will eventually become standard-just as air bags did."
In more than half the cases, Delphi moves ahead on these futuristic technologies without major funding help from automakers. Instead, the company relies on feedback from extensive consumer research, then takes the technology to the car companies for validation.