Vol.1 How Electricity Drives Automobile Progress ‒ Part 1 Electric Motors: Working Behind the Scenes for Better Fuel Economy
What is the biggest difference between humans and animals? This question has been asked many times, evoking a range of different answers. "Being able to use tools" is one of the most frequently cited differences. However, it was found that in fact there are animals that use objects such as stones or twigs to catch prey, in some cases even shaping these objects before use. So the description of the difference has been amended to "Only humans create tools to make other tools."
Be that as it may, it certainly can be said that the advancement of humanity and the progress of civilization was driven by the discovery and continuous improvement of tools. And in our modern age, many of these tools are being made more convenient, more powerful, and more functional by the application and evolution of electronics technology.
Cars and electricity have been closely linked from the start
A prime example of this development is the automobile. Even in its earlier stages, the car would not have been possible without electricity. The internal combustion engine requires an electrical spark from a spark plug to ignite the fuel, and without the electric starter motor, even getting the engine to run would be a major undertaking. Without headlights or windshield wipers, the car could not drive at night or in the rain, and without brake lights or winkers, the number of collisions would certainly rise. We can categorize these types of equipment as "electrical equipment necessary for moving the car."
On the other hand, the value of the car as a product has increased through the addition of electrical equipment that makes driving more pleasurable, such as air conditioning, car audio systems, car navigation systems, etc. Various sensors are indispensable for electronic systems controlling the engine and other aspects of the car. In recent years, it has become more common to take some of the information provided by these sensors and present it to the driver in an easy to grasp format, thereby contributing to more efficient and better driving.
For example, an indicator that directly shows the actual fuel consumption at any moment helps enormously with realizing fuel economy, and indicators showing the timing for oil changes and other necessary actions help to keep the car in optimum condition. A system that warns the driver when the external temperature drops below three degrees centigrade alerts him or her to the possibility of road surface freezing. Recently, some manufacturers equip their cars with systems that can analyze driving patterns and provide guidance for safe and economical driving.
Tire pressure warnings, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic slip control (ESC), collision prevention systems and similar features that contribute actively to driving safety are being increasingly included as standard equipment. We may call this category "electrical equipment for comfort and safety."
Over the course of the past twenty years or so, the importance of new electronics technologies has increased notably. In order to preserve the earth's environment and resources, improving the fuel economy of cars has become a critical and pressing goal, and electronic systems that directly contribute to better performance are attracting wide interest. Developments in this field began in the mid-1970s, starting with electronic control for ignition and fuel systems. What originally had been performed by purely mechanical means now was put under electronic control, resulting in drastically improved flexibility. Suddenly, it became possible to adjust the amount of fuel supplied to the engine as well as the ignition timing over a much wider range. This in turn enabled designers to successfully combine output performance with cleaner exhaust emissions.
Nevertheless, until about ten years ago, a car with a displacement in the 2-liter class consumed about 1 liter of fuel for every 10 kilometers when driving in an urban environment. By contrast, cars in the same class these days habitually get about 15 to 20 kilometers per liter. The biggest reason why this improvement in fuel economy came about is the impending introduction of fuel economy standards worldwide, such as the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standard.
If average fuel consumption figures calculated on the basis of every car sold by a manufacturer do not meet certain CAFE standards, the manufacturer's name may be made public, penalties may apply, or a limit may be imposed on the number of cars that can be sold. Because this affects especially manufacturers with high sales figures for large and luxurious cars that tend to consumer more fuel, there is strong pressure on improving the fuel economy of all models in a company's lineup.