1999 New York Show: High Tech

April 5, 1999

by Ted Grozier

We Americans consider New York the financial capital of the world. So last week, when the carmakers gathered at the New York International Auto Show, it was no surprise that they trumpeted strong first-quarter sales. But the wide array of new products at the New York show also brought an array of tech wizardry rarely seen there. For the first time in a long time, the Jacob Javits Center hosted a myriad of exciting new technologies in safety, performance, and environmental responsibility.

On the safety front, Ford's 2000



If Janette Fennel of San Francisco were
really trapped in this trunk, she simply could pull
the Taurus’ safety release to escape.

Taurus stole the show. Its standard-equipment Advanced Restraint System assesses collision speed, seat belt use, and seating position to compute appropriate airbag responses during frontal impacts. If the passenger seat is not occupied, for example, the passenger airbag will not inflate. The new system includes seat belt pre-tensioners and force limiters — previously available only on high-end vehicles — and will debut on new and "freshened" vehicles throughout the Ford Motor Co. product range. Side airbags also will be made standard across the board. Power adjustable pedals — seen first on the 1999 Expedition and Navigator SUVs — make their passenger-car debut on the Y2K Taurus. With 3 inches of fore-aft travel, the pedals promote better airbag safety by allowing shorter drivers to sit farther from the steering wheel. Visibility also benefits by bringing a shorter driver's focal point closer to the position for which the mirrors, windshield frame, and instruments were designed. The new Taurus comes standard with an interior trunk release designed to eliminate the surprisingly high child death rate due to entrapment. A glow-in-the-dark pull tab inside the trunk releases the latch even if the doors are locked and the vehicle's battery is dead.

We've seen anti-whiplash devices on Volvos and Saabs, but at the New York show, Infiniti announced that it, too, would offer the technology as standard equipment on its 2000 I30 and Q45 sedans. In a rear-end collision, the headrests of the front seats are mechanically driven both forward and upward, resulting in 35 percent reductions of neck stretching and rotation. Infiniti's tests have shown an overall reduction in injury severity of about 65 percent with the new system.




Anti-lock brakes are standard on all but the most economical vehicles these days. At the auto show in New York, a number of manufacturers upped the stopping-power ante. Saab's new 9-3-derived Viggen sports car comes standard with grooved brake discs at all four corners, while Mercedes' CL coupe sports cross-drilled rotors up front. Both systems provide slightly better initial braking in wet conditions and can often lower brake temperatures. Don't look for these technologies on family sedans soon, though. A more promising braking improvement cropped up on Kia's KMS-4 concept car (a derivative of the long lost Lotus Elan, for those who recall). Called Brake Assist (it has been around for some time now on Mercedes-Benz production cars), the system automatically applies full braking force during panic stops. Research has shown that even the best drivers are often too late in applying full pressure on the pedal, and unlike ABS, this system can significantly reduce stopping distances.

For high-performance technology, Saab and Audi drew the most attention. The Viggen, a modified Saab 9-3, takes its name from the fighter jet also produced by the company. Its turbocharged four-cylinder cranks out 225 horsepower and is equipped with oil-cooled pistons and special heat-resistant Nimonic alloy exhaust valves. Aggressive aerodynamic modifications not only reduce rear lift by 60 percent, but also lower overall drag by 8 percent, to an impressive 0.31 Cd. In other powerful news, Audi showed its twin-turbo, 250-hp S4 sedan and broadened the A6 lineup with the 4.2-liter eight-cylinder engine from the flagship A8. An S6 sports sedan has yet to meet approval with Audi execs, a spokesman revealed.




With all the hybrid hubbub in Detroit and DaimlerChrysler's NECAR 4 debut just weeks before, there was a relative dearth of green technology in New York. One notable exception was GM's announcement of its Hybrid Bus Demonstration Project. Allison Electric Drives, a GM division, has retrofitted a New York City bus with an advanced hybrid-electric drive system. With its ability to recover energy during braking, the bus is perfectly suited to the stop-and-go duty cycle. Using a low-sulfur diesel fuel provided by BP Amoco, the bus is reported to have 70 percent lower emissions, 40 percent lower fuel consumption, and better acceleration than the standard city bus. Plans for heavy-duty hybrid trucks used in stop-and-go applications such as trash collection are also in the works.

While record sales were announced at press conferences on the main show floors, records for speedy, accurate auto repair were being set in the basement. The seventh annual Automotive Technology Competition pitted the nation's best high-school-age vocational students against one another. Each year, teams from around the nation are faced with the challenge of diagnosing and repairing carefully planted "bugs" on today's modern vehicles, with each successful repair earning points toward a final score. Along with the hands-on test, there is a challenging written exam that covers the details of advanced electronics and other automotive systems. In the future, these students may repair your car — or even some of the very technologies featured this year at the New York International Auto Show.

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