Behind the razzmatazz and brouhaha of Europe’s biggest motor show, auto parts suppliers’ stands also bristled with a fascinating array of new ideas, products and technologies, reports Matthew Beecham.

Braking news
The number of buttons dotted inside the cabin of some new cars is overwhelming. Press here to power the windows, there for the sunroof and over here to adjust the seat or wing mirrors. Just when you thought you had worked it out, another one appears on the dash – for the hand brake. Dispensing with the hand lever not only frees up an area for interior designers to add yet more cupholders, it also opens up new possibilities for additional braking functions. All the main electronic brake system integrators are developing their own solution to EPB.

Bosch is currently preparing its parking brake ready for volume production in 2005, known as Automated Parking Brake (APB). “Our system is simple, reliable and cheap, eliminating the need for electric motors” said Stephan Kraus, Bosch spokesman for automotive technology. When the driver presses the switch to operate the parking brake, the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) automatically generates pressure and pushes the brake pads against the brake disc. An electro-magnetic valve built into the caliper controls a secondary hydraulic circuit, which locks the disc by means of a novel mechanism. When the driver presses the switch a second time, the ESP generates pressure again briefly – and the same mechanism releases the brake. By the time the APB goes into production, Bosch expects most new cars will have ESP. Although ESP is already standard equipment on many luxury cars, an increasing number of mid-range and small cars are being fitted with the unit as standard or optional fitment. Today, Bosch reckons that ESP is currently fitted on one out of two new passenger cars in Germany, one out of five in France, one out of eight in Italy and one out of 12 in the UK.

For its part, Continental Teves has already introduced its electric parking brake and is now developing its electro-hydraulic parking brake ready for volume production in the second quarter of 2006. Jurgen Volkel, development manager of Continental Teves’ EPB calipers, told us that by adding EPB or EHB can add additional functions such as hill start assist and automatic stop and go. Other safety features include self-diagnosis functions, immobiliser capabilities and improved emergency braking functions in the event of the hydraulic brakes failing.

Market leader TRW first started developing EPBs in 1997 with a group of eight engineers. It now has a 30-strong engineering team. TRW believes its EPB provides a significant benefit to the chassis and interior design. The actuating element and the brakes make up a single modular unit in this system, i.e. the operating mechanism is integrated in the rear wheel brakes. Both actuators are controlled through a specific electronic control unit. The operating element (rocker switch) is directly connected to the control unit. TRW currently supplies its EPB solution to Volkswagen, Audi and Bentley. A dedicated team of four engineers are currently focusing on hydraulically assisted parking brakes. “It seems to be a cost-effective solution,” said Dr Ralf Leiter, chief engineer of systems at TRW Automotive. “Our philosophy at TRW is that if we don’t make it cheaper then someone else will. So we are focusing on two areas. The first is getting cost out of the integrated system to be as competitive as possible. The second area is to evaluate this new technology and consider what it means from every angle. There are a lot of consequences.”

Blowing hot and cold
Air conditioning systems are increasingly required to have environmentally friendly credentials. The use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has been phased out in most industrial applications. During the 1990s, the auto industry switched from the so-called R12 (Freon) refrigerant to the CFC-free R-134a refrigerant. Manufacturers now predict future growth in sophisticated air conditioning systems as the European auto industry moves towards meeting Euro 4 emissions regulations and in new technologies, such as using carbon dioxide (CO2) in the refrigeration system. The European Union is pushing for environmentally-friendly cooling systems such CO2 to replace R-134a refrigerant.

Given that the days of R-134a refrigerant are numbered, most manufacturers are at full tilt toward developing CO2 solutions. They include Denso, Behr, Visteon, Modine and Valeo. Denso is the world’s largest supplier of automotive air conditioning systems with a 25% market share. Denso developed the world’s first non-fluorocarbon car air conditioning system that uses CO2 and began supplying it for Toyota’s fuel cell hybrid vehicle (FCHV-4) last December. Koichi Fukaya, newly-appointed president and CEO of Denso Corp, said: “We believe that CO2 is the most promising option for next-generation air conditioner refrigerant. However, before it enters the marketplace we must further improve our CO2 system to increase performance and reduce cost and weight. We also need to work with other suppliers, vehicle makers and governments worldwide to create an infrastructure to safely handle CO2 systems during service and maintenance.” Germany’s Behr says its CO2 air conditioning system could be commercially ready by 2006.

Figure 1: Basic structure of Denso’s carbon dioxide air conditioning system.
click here to enlarge

Source: Denso

click image to enlarge

Lights, music, ambience
One of the major thrusts in interior lighting design is on creating the right ‘mood’ or ambience. Johnson Controls has teamed up with lighting specialist Philips to develop such as system. For rear seat passengers, the development partners used flat light sources behind a plastic plate covered in woven headliner material, making it invisible until switched on. Johnson Controls also showcased an integrated lighting concept for door panels, packed with lighting elements that perform different tasks. For example, if the door isn’t shut properly, some bulbs remain switched on. While on the move, the bulbs dim to create ambient lighting. The German lighting specialist, HELLA, also displayed a battery of products and ideas for applications inside and outside the car. Hella has relied heavily on LEDs for its ambient interior lighting concepts. The Bmw 7-Series, for example, features Hella’s ambient interior lighting concept comprising eight light apertures and four reading lamps. In this BMW model, Hella has used four CELIS light guide strips with LED light sources in the door trim which give the door trim, arm rests, handles and switches a 3-D appearance. A further form of lighting uses one central bulb to produce the brightness. Glass fibre cables direct the light specifically to the required spot in the vehicle.

Figure 2: Interior lighting in the BMW 7-Series.

Source: Hella

Sensing growth
Three years ago, US legislators filed a ruling requiring that vehicle makers make airbags more effective for people of all shapes and sizes. The proposals were introduced following the deaths of more than 200 people in the US, mostly children, caused by airbags inflating with far too much force. The legislation was actually phased in this month, requiring that 35% of each vehicle maker’s fleet sold in the US feature so-called advanced airbag systems. That number increases to nearly 100% by September 2006. This ruling triggered a raft of innovation from suppliers in the occupant detection systems arena. Recaro was among them. The German group used the Frankfurt show to re-introduce their new occupant detection system, developed jointly with Sartorius and GWT. The system, known as Incase (Intelligent Car Seat) uses four sensors and an electronic evaluation mechanism to detect the size of the occupant in order to control the airbag deflation. Since introducing their first system at IAA 2001, the partners have further tweaked and fine-tined certain components. Lear also showcased its solution, known as OccuSense, claiming this technology is also able to differentiate passengers of all shapes and sizes.

Other fascinations
Sunroofs are getting larger and more stylish. Inalfa Roof Systems presented three of its latest products: the new roof systems for the BMW X3, GMC Envoy and Citroen C3 Pluriel. The Dutch sunroof maker points out that its versatile roof system for the Citroen C3 can transform the vehicle into four different cars: hatchback, cabriolet, spider and pick-up.

Although rear-end collisions are rarely fatal, they result in one-quarter of all personal injuries. They also account for more than 50% of all insurance claims for personal injury sustained by car occupants in Europe. Damage to their neck arising from a sharp backwards rotation of the head is known as the ‘whiplash effect’. Consequently, interest from vehicle makers in various anti-whiplash systems is significant. Germany’s Grammer, a long-standing supplier of armrests and headrests for luxury cars, recently began supplying the active head restraint system for the new BMW 5 Series. In the event of a crash, the restraint prevents the occupant’s head from bouncing back onto the headrest by initiating an early forward movement of the headrest system in a split second, thereby reducing the chance of spinal injuries. Grammer’s system also appears on BMW’s 7 Series.

Figure3: Grammer AG’s active headrest.

During the Gulf War, thermal-imaging technology helped military forces successfully carry out their missions by night. Cadillac was the first carmaker to have brought the safety benefits of this technology to drivers with the introduction of Night Vision on the 2000 DeVille. Since then, a number of manufacturers have developed a Night Vision system. Lear was among those suppliers showcasing its system at Frankfurt. Known as Clearview, it uses a near-infrared laser diode light. Hella also simulated its infrared system, known as ADILIS (Advanced Infrared Lighting System).

One of the areas buzzing with activity on Johnson Controls’ stand was its display showing its Leap automotive seating concept. Following four years of research and using the expertise of office furniture maker, Steelcase, the partners transferred the basic ergonomic features of an office chair to the car. The company says that its Leap seat concept features active seat elements that automatically adapt themselves to the occupant’s body size, posture and even variations in spinal shape. Some 40 patents are hidden inside this deceptively simple new seat structure.

In addition to its APB, Bosch, showcased a variety of new products including a ceramic glow plug, third generation common-rail diesel direct injection system (cutting exhaust emissions by up to 20%), a new automated parking brake, second generation adaptive cruise control system plus a range of new audio systems from its subsidiary, Blaupunkt.

TRW also used this year’s show to announce that it will launch production later this year of a number of advanced stability control, electric steering and occupant safety systems for late 2003 and 2004 model year platforms in North America and Europe.