Tech evolution

If the technology now being engineered into automobiles makes the leap to light trucks, fleets could see some big changes in equipment options. Let's talk engines first. General Motors is rolling out a platform using a combustion process homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) that promises up to 15% better fuel economy compared to traditional gasoline engines, while also lowering emissions.

If the technology now being engineered into automobiles makes the leap to light trucks, fleets could see some big changes in equipment options.

Let's talk engines first. General Motors is rolling out a platform using a combustion process — homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) — that promises up to 15% better fuel economy compared to traditional gasoline engines, while also lowering emissions.

“When used with direct injection, electric cam phasing, variable valve lift and cylinder pressure sensing technology, HCCI approaches the engine efficiency benefit of a diesel, but without the need for expensive, lean NOx aftertreatment systems,” says Tom Stephens, group vp for GM Powertrain and Quality. “Its efficiency comes from burning fuel at lower temperatures and reducing the heat energy lost during the combustion process,” he explains. “Less carbon dioxide is released because the vehicle's operation in HCCI mode is more efficient.”

Right now, GM's HCCI-powered concept vehicles are cars, but the technology could be adapted to light trucks in the near future, according to Stephens.

If you think that's slick, Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo division is rolling out a new Driver Alert Control (DAC) system to guard against driver fatigue and distraction.

Daniel Levin, DAC project manager, explains that DAC works by monitoring the car's movements — in part through lane-departure warning technology — and assessing whether the vehicle is being driven in a controlled or uncontrolled manner through the use of cameras, sensors and a control unit.

The camera, which is installed between the windscreen and interior rear-view mirror, continuously measures the distance between the car and the road lane markings, while the sensors register the car's movements. The control unit stores the information and calculates whether the driver risks losing control of the vehicle.

If the risk is assessed as high, the driver is alerted via an audible signal. In addition, a text message appears in the car's information display, using a coffee-cup icon to signal that it's time to take a break.

“We do not monitor human behavior, but instead [look at] the effect of fatigue or decreased concentration…on driving behavior,” Levin points out. “Our system is based on the car's progress on the road. It gives a reliable indication if something is likely to go wrong and alerts the driver before it's too late.”

Volvo is also rolling out Collision Warning with Auto Brake (CWAB) by the end of the year, which includes automatic braking when a rear-end collision is imminent. CWAB uses both radar and a camera to detect vehicles in front of the car. “The long-range radar reaches 150 meters in front of the car while the camera range is 55 meters,” says Jonas Tisell, CWAB's technical project manager. “By using Data Fusion to combine information from the radar and the camera, the system becomes more efficient.”

Automatic brake support is key to making this system work, shortening the reaction time as brakes are prepared by the brake pads being placed against the discs. The brake pressure is also reinforced hydraulically, ensuring effective braking even if the driver does not press the brake pedal particularly hard, Tisell explains.

“This can mean the difference between a serious injury and minor consequences for the occupants,” he stresses. “Depending on the circumstances, it is also possible that the automatic braking function could help avoid the impact entirely.”

That's heady stuff, all right, so let's hope it migrates to the light truck side of the business sooner rather than later.

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