Ford's playing the 'ketchup' game for its cars of the future
Technology in focus: Our motoring editor reports from Aachen
Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30
It's not all about diesel you know. There are other matters needing attention - such as wheaten straw, tomatoes, jams (traffic), dandelions and soya beans. As I was to discover during my recent visit to Ford's European Research and Innovation Centre in Aachen, Germany.
Pim Van Der Jagt, executive technical leader at the centre, says, however, that diesel will remain critically important in Europe for a long time - hence the high level of research at the centre. But there will be substantial growth for other power sources too.
There will also be significant changes in what materials are used in cars - and what drivers/passengers do, see and feel in the cabins of the future.
Driver assistance systems will be regarded as not just prerequisites for 4/5-star EuroNCAP ratings but as ways of making life safer and easier on the move: collisions are predicted to fall by up to 60pc.
There is recognition too, that as engines can't meet air quality targets on their own, weight loss will become ever more important.
That's why there is this constant search for new materials, compounds and fabrics.
And alongside all that is the need to get much closer to the fuel consumption (emissions) ordinary people get on their everyday journeys.
Rainer Vogt is the expert on emissions, environmental and health research. His task is establishing Real Driving Emissions (RDE), examining the output of NOx and particulates, etc. But determining real-world consumption is a complex job. There are so many influences: the driver, location, hills, traffic etc. His project is driven by the need to improve air quality. Europe's target is WHO's 40 microgrammes per cubic metre. That's 2.5 times lower than the US. But US tests are much stricter on NOx emissions.
The engine in his research vehicle is a 2-litre diesel packed with monitoring equipment, batteries, pipes and boxes. Rainer sums up what it is all about: "The prime focus is to test the testing."
From next year all new vehicles will have to be tested on the road and engines' values will be measured and reported. All manufacturers will have to take the same procedure.
I ask him where we'll be in five years? "NOx will be solved by then. Diesels will have become extremely clean. There will be an 80/85pc improvement in reduction of NOx. So it will not be a problem." He ponders a moment: "Give it six years."
Cleaning up diesel's aftermath will mean increasing consumption because more power is needed to mop up NOx. But he believes engineering advances will help keep engine power in line with demands. Of course they won't need as much power if cars are lighter - and they should be as new sustainable and renewable materials and compounds are found.
For example, the experts are studying a shrub called Guayule which might reduce the amount of rubber needed in car production. Plant-based rubber alternatives such as dandelions, sunflowers and sugar cane are being looked at as well.
And then there are the tomatoes. Ford is working with Heinz to see how dried tomato skins (by-products of ketchup production) could become the wiring brackets in a car, or its storage bins. We were told how wheaten straw and flax and soya beans are all becoming part of the fabric (pun intended) of what goes into of our cars.
And you may even sit on seats made from soya beans.
Judging by the way traffic is worsening you'll have plenty of time to sit. Research shows we spend an average of 30 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. It feels like more. Ford has come with a Traffic Jam Assist, whisking us off on Aachen roads to show how it works. It keeps the vehicle centred in the lane and a certain distance from the one in front, using a grille-mounted radar and front-facing camera behind the windscreen to keep pace. The car does all the work but you can take control at any time by using the pedals, steering wheel or indicators.
Traffic-jam driving is hard on fuel and engines and when the latter give up they represent a big loss of time, material and energy. Ford has found a way to revitalise rather than scrap them: through a special spray. It's called Plasma Transferred Wire Arc coating technology. It applies a spray to the inside of the engine block that helps restore it to its original factory condition. This differs from re-conditioning because there is no re-bore; instead they spray the cylinders and then machine them down to fit. They expect to do 1,000 a month over the next couple of years. You don't have to change the ECU calibration. They reckon a re-manufactured engine will cost €2,500 - a new one is €4,500. And the process cuts the level of production emissions by half. Emissions . . . there is no escaping them.