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Emerging Automotive Trends Demand Innovative Responses

Challenges face OEMs and parts manufacturers in automotive powertrain and chassis engineering.

Louisville, KY (Vocus/PRWEB ) September 10, 2008 -- Trends emerging now in the automotive industry have the potential to bring significant change to several areas of automotive engineering, says James D. Eddy, Automotive Industry Manager of Zeon Chemicals L.P. in Louisville, Kentucky.

“From the resurgence of past technologies like turbocharging to increasing electrification of vehicles, we can expect these trends to affect the vehicles of the future and the elastomers used to produce them,” Eddy explains. Here are a few of the rising trends Eddy expects to become of increased importance.

1. The renaissance of turbocharging

Rising fuel costs will lead to a preference for technologies that allow more power to be produced by smaller engines, including a resurgence of technologies used in the past such as turbocharging. Currently widely used in Europe with diesel engines, turbocharging will appear in North American gasoline engines now being developed for introduction beginning in 2010.

Some of these new turbochargers will utilize external air coolers. Routing air to these coolers will create opportunities for elastomers with heat resistance above 170°C and some level of turbo oil resistance. Compounds based on HT-ACM, AEM, VMQ and FVMQ are under evaluation. The clean air ducts may need to be created out of elastomers that are more resistant to oil and fuel vapors, depending on where and how the engine exhaust gases are circulated.

2. Continued evolution of the internal combustion engine

Several magazine articles have been written about the future of plug-in vehicles, battery- powered cars and automobiles powered by fuel cells. Yet you can expect that the internal combustion (IC) engine will be a prominent fixture in automotive powertrains for at least the next 20 years.

The IC engine will continue to evolve as the desire for lower emissions is paired with a need for increased fuel economy. Diesel and gasoline engines will merge as HCCI (homogeneous charge compression ignition) engine technology is improved and brought to the market, as these engines offer the potential for both reduced emissions and higher efficiencies.

3. Increased development of biofuels

How important biofuels become will be affected by the emergence of the technology, the availability of biofuel feed stocks in various regions and each government’s policies to promote crops to be used for biofuels. Regulation of biofuel composition is unevenly controlled in different parts of the world, and unsaturation in the various oils can lead to formation of peroxides that have a deleterious effect on some elastomers. In the absence of standards for biodiesel, ethanol and ETBE composition, OEMs must rely on fail-safe materials, which can lead to increasing fuel system costs.

In regions where fuel composition can be well defined, OEMs have a wider variety of choices and biofuels can become a viable fuel without an undue increase of fuel system costs. The use of ethanol in Brazil is an excellent example of the use of biofuels to achieve independence from petroleum fuel sources. In other parts of the world, the picture is still developing and what choices are made will definitely affect the preferred elastomer choices for automobiles.

4. Consolidation of automotive fluids within assembly plants

Managers of assembly plants would very much like to achieve less complex inventory management of fluids. This has led to consolidation efforts that rely on multiple-use fluids.

The first consolidation will probably be automatic transmission fluid also designed to be used as power steering fluid. Others may follow, and this will determine the resistance level of the elastomers used in specific parts.

5. Ongoing vehicle electrification

Several years ago, there was considerable discussion about the need for 42-volt electrical systems to power more vehicle electronics. Today that discussion is non-existent.

Advancements in electronics have allowed most of the advanced electronic content to be added within the confines of 14-volt electrical systems. A broader spectrum of vehicle sizes can be steered or braked electronically without voltage architecture beyond 14 volts, affecting overall elastomer consumption in hydraulic sealing for these systems. Other elastomers will find new applications in power transmission belts used in conjunction with the electric motors.

6. The need for environmentally friendly refrigerants

The mobile air conditioning business is undergoing drastic change; OEMs worldwide are evaluating options to meet a 2011 EU standard that eliminates the use of R-134a, the A/C system refrigerant currently used worldwide. This regulation requires the use of a refrigerant with a GWP (Global Warming Potential) below 150. The GWP of R-134a is 1300.

Presently no regulation exists outside of Europe to ban the use of R-134a in mobile air conditioning systems. Depending on their location, automakers are considering three options to meet the EU requirement:

  • German OEMs advocate CO2 (R-744a) for GWP, although this means an extensive system redesign
  • Most others prefer HFO-1234yf for the minimal redesign, GWP=4            
  • Although it requires a secondary loop, R-152a is a possible backup (GWP=123)

7. Development of Round-the-Globe Engineering

Each of the major OEMs in the process of setting up development centers around the globe (and many already have). In some cases, these centers are satellite centers that take principal direction from a larger parent center, which is the model preferred by the Asian OEMs.

In other cases, these centers are given specific platform (and powertrain) development responsibility, which tends to be the preference of the North American OEMs. In either case, the emergence of these global development centers facilitates local sourcing and, (where appropriate) localized engineering and materials decision-making to best address the needs of that specific region.

These are just a few of the trends that the automotive industry will need to address in coming years.

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