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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Scores of auto evolution

Scores as defined by groups of 20 years that is.  The automobile world has roughly only 6 of those in its historical evolution, but what a wild 6 scores — especially the last couple.

And with its exponential-like technology growth, the latest 20 have been truly amazing. This ever-accelerating product evolution has led to a fruitful marriage of electronic computer management and mechanical vehicle functions.  The ultimate benefactors of that coupling are consumers with regard to continual improvement in vehicle efficiency, function and safety.

Given today’s international marketers, competition for innovation is keener than ever. As a result, with efforts from leading manufacturers in America, Germany, Japan, Korea and Italy striving to stand out, the beneficial outcomes again favor drivers.

One does not need to go too far back to remember cars and trucks of the early 1980s that still had carburetors and automatic chokes. Effective setting of “automatic” chokes was a compromise at best.  Like the even earlier days (‘50s-‘60s) of manual chokes, carbureted cars needed them to get started — when they were “on” or closed, the air to the carb was choked off and extra fuel poured in.  But then, like a manual choke when the driver forgot to push the dash-knob back in, most automatic chokes stayed on too long and wasted fuel while puffing black smoke (unburned fuel). Either that or they could be adjusted “leaner” and then the engine died at the first couple stops because it opened too soon.

That’s just a rudimentary example of what drivers have not had to put up with for the last score-and-a-half with fuel injection and computer-controlled engine management evolution.  Drivers of this latest score of vehicles have never worried about a carburetor and haven’t needed to depress the gas pedal once to set the automatic choke and supply a squirt of gasoline via the linkage-actuated accelerator pump on the carburetor — luckily! These days, if a car doesn’t start with a simple turn of the key or push of a button something is wrong.  And if it doesn’t idle perfectly and accelerate smoothly, it’s broken.

That “broken” is usually one of many sensors or actuators feeding signals to the main computer — then triggering the dreaded “check engine” light. 

Engine management has evolved far beyond mere efficient fuel delivery however — variable cam and ignition timing coupled with cylinder activation/deactivation (that works smoothly) are examples.  The on-board managing computer gets input from a litany of sensors, considering engine load, temperature, altitude and exhaust analyzation to providing optimum settings.  Correspondingly, todays best auto technicians are adept at decoding fault codes stored in the computer and translating those symptoms to non-functional mechanical systems.

The U.S. Government and independent advisory groups now rate vehicles in many categories like crash testing, consumer satisfaction and quality indices.  Since results of these reports affect market share, they also help fuel the quest for product superiority.  It seems everything that a carmaker does is heavily scrutinized, which as always, is good for us.

Automakers are listening to our feedback, and those who don’t listen will perish.  This is fierce competition — our major American manufacturers are literally down to Ford and General Motors.  Chrysler is owned by Fiat, of Italy and other imports have huge market shares in the United States.  But don’t forget Tesla, Inc. — the standard which all other manufacturers hope to emulate as they delve into electric vehicle research and development.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.