The advent of the PC and the explosion in growth of mobile multimedia systems are set to transform the passenger car as we know it, according to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit : The Electronics Revolution in the Motor Industry: 2000 edition. From lights, horn and a starter, the automotive electrical system has grown to incorporate a proliferation of functions. Power demand is growing at four percent annually, and has already passed two kilowatts of requirement on many modern vehicles and is reaching three, a sort of “breaking point” at which the belt-drive alternator becomes a problematic appendage.
Such is the growth that the total content of electronics in a vehicle will reach more than 30% of an executive car’s value (compared with 23% today) and around 20% of a three-door hatchback’s value by 2005. Mobile multimedia systems will account for more than half of this amount with powertrain and drivetrain accounting for around 30%. Safety systems will account for around 10% with the remainder accounted for by miscellaneous items such as keyless entry and air conditioning.
The advent of mobile multimedia systems into the car is now in full swing. We have already reached the stage where “infotainment” systems are beginning to be fitted into cars, usually sports utility vehicles, where the kids in the back can either play computer games or watch the latest DVD movie while the parents in the front are driving to their destination with the aid of an active navigation system. Soon drivers will be communicating with the rest of the world by voice activated e-mails and surfing the Web to find out the latest weather news or stock reports.
Electronics are also spreading from inside the car to every other area, replacing parts that were once mechanical or hydraulic. Electronic transmission systems, brake-by-wire, steer-by-wire, vehicle stability systems and even the “beltless” engine are now making their way onto vehicles while traditional electronic items such as the lights and wipers are being improved.
The car is now reaching the position where 12 volts is not enough, so the next big step will be the arrival of the 42-volt system. Most manufacturers are working on such a system although most are keeping it a closely guarded secret as to when it will be introduced. The EIU estimates that first appearance on a production vehicle will be 2003.
The report identifies areas where electronics are revolutionising the vehicle:
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