Reflections and revelations from the Auto ShowWritten by Nick Shultz | | email@example.com
(DETROIT) — The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) has an entirely different atmosphere this year — it is positive! The faces of the executives from America’s Big Three automakers reflect that attitude, while the faces of the import auto makers show a sense of concern.
While in years past America’s Big Three would sit back and watch the edge in innovation and technology go to their foreign counterparts, that was decidedly not the case this year. Ford Motor Co. had the definitive advantage at the NAIAS in technology gains and was able to secure a clean sweep, winning the prestigious “Car of the Year” and “Truck of the Year” awards. Ford accomplished an almost impossible feat in securing both top awards. The last time this occurred was 17 years ago. The Ford Fusion hybrid and the Ford Transport took home the gold. General Motors was right at their heels with its popular Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Equinox.
The positive attitude showed in the new products, as well as in the faces of not only the automanufacturer’s personnel but also in the faces of the media. Perhaps the biggest hit among the many folks in attendance from all around the world was Ford’s automatic parking system, which was highlighted in a parking demonstration within the expansive Cobo Hall. I sat in total amazement as the new Ford Escape parallel parked itself within the tiny space provided. I followed the instructions provided by the on-board computer, reluctantly let go of the steering wheel and watched as the automatic system deftly parked the Escape SUV in a spot I am not sure I could have parked that vehicle in without its aid. I was amazed by this wonderous new technology.
From hybrids to electrics to advanced onboard computer systems, the theme at the NAIS was technology and innovation. It is great to see the U.S. car makers were leading the way in both areas. The show opens to the public Jan. 16 and runs through Jan. 24.
Hybrids not magical
With all the buzz about hybrid technology, I figured it was high time I explained this vehicle’s operation in a manner that most might actually understand without the techno mumbo jumbo often associated with it.
A hybrid vehicle incorporates an electrical drive system with conventional gasoline engine technology.
During some conditions, the vehicle is being propelled solely by an electric motor and at other times it is being propelled by the gasoline engine. Operating a vehicle in this manner cuts down on overall fuel usage, or it is suppose to. If you drive on the highway a lot, you may not actually see any fuel savings.
Electric motors provide a lot of power immediately upon starting to spin and lose power the faster they spin. In a hybrid vehicle we use electrical motors to get the vehicle moving from a dead stop. After the electric motor reaches the RPM where it no longer has an advantage over the gasoline engine, the gas engine starts to propel the car.
A gasoline engine develops its peak power after it reaches a certain RPM. Most gasoline engines develop very little power from a dead stop. Therefore, it is advantageous to only use a gasoline engine once the vehicle is actually moving above a certain speed.
Onboard computers control the motor that is operating under different operating conditions. Depending on the weight of the vehicle and the size of the motors installed, those driving variables may change from one hybrid vehicle to another.
When the gasoline engine is not propelling the vehicle, it is actually helping to recharge the powerful hybrid battery pack. The conventional gasoline engine’s alternator is not big enough to keep the hybrid’s large batteries fully charged. Therefore, built into the case of the hybrid electrical motor is another more powerful alternator that operates off the vehicle’s drive axles. Whenever the vehicle is braking, this large alternator helps to sustain the hybrid’s batteries.
The switching between the hybrid electrical drive motor and the conventional gasoline engine is computer controlled. Virtually every aspect of this vehicle is controlled by a computer.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.