Recently, I had the opportunity to attend Matt Roush’s monthly Technology Report event series discussing high-tech automotive trends at Lawrence Technological University. Joining Roush was a panel of four esteemed guests: Andrew Pontius, Chief Engineering Technical Officer, NAO, Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies; Tom Apostolos, President, Ricardo USA Inc.; Jeff Gilbert, Automotive Reporter, WWJ Newsradio 950; and; Jerry Klarr, Director of Innovation and Strategy, AVL.

Pontius started off the morning’s festivities with an intriguing discussion on the current state of future of the automotive emissions industry. With Faurecia being the sixth largest automotive supplier in the world, Andrew offered an expanse of insight. The audience was shocked to hear that with emissions as they are today, a V6 Toyota Camry today is just as fast as a classic Chevrolet Camaro IROC. For the automotive emissions industry, Pontius sees one of the major shifts is the downsizing of engines – predicting that the industry is headed for two liter turbo engines for everyone.

“Engines overall are operating at lower speeds with less cylinders,” said Pontius. The main problem with this is increased noise. Cars are trending towards less space and less weight, but still need to somehow remain quieter than their predecessors. Pontius predicts we are moving towards cylinder deactivation and silencing volume. Contributing to this, Faurecia has begun a new, innovative lightweight initiative and has already built an exhaust system that is 40 percent lighter than its competitors.

“We are coming to the age with the digitization of exhaust sound,” stated Pontius. “We cancel out the current sound and produce another.” His focus on the acoustics and dynamics of exhaust compelled the audience. “The next thing to focus on is energy recovery,” said Pontius. He concluded with the fact that 30 percent of fuel energy is lost through the tailpipe. The future of auto emissions also will focus on harnessing that energy to make it useable.

Automotive panel discussion

At the completion of Andrew Pontius’s presentation, Matt Roush and audience members posed questions to the panel.

What is the most interesting automotive tech today?

Jerry Klarr stepped in stating that the most interesting piece of automotive tech to him is using real-time data to optimize vehicles. Predictive management of the powertrain is going to drive the optimization of the modern automobile. Klarr stated the biggest problem is managing growth and safety of this type of innovation.

Tom Apostolos indicated stance on interesting tech is focused on autonomous automobiles.  “By 2020,” he said, “Fifty billion devices will be connected to the internet, 20 percent of vehicles will be autonomous and 54 million autonomous vehicles will be available worldwide.”

Jeff Gilbert was a self-described cynic regarding the autonomous car perspective, noting “The human aspect will get in the way.” Gilbert claims that autonomous vehicles will take longer than others industry insiders predict to be mainstream, mainly due to potential sensor fail lawsuits and unengaged drivers falling asleep. Gilbert does recognize that these types of systems will be used in great ways to prevent accidents and improve safety but “…fully autonomous cars will be generations off.”

When do you see the demise of the internal combustion engine occurring?

The panel all agreed on this answer that internal combustion engines still have a long life. Efficiencies in these types of engines will be built upon until at least 2050 to further improve emissions. Gilbert further touched on this subject saying we don’t realize actually how much we drive.

When considering the purchase of an electric car, many people focus just on driving to and from work. However, people forget where else they actually go on the way home or on the weekends. When coming home from work you may pick up the kids from school, stop by the store, head to a friend’s house, pick up the kids from piano lessons and a multitude of other potential stops. We need to consider all of these aspects when considering purchasing a limited range electric charged vehicle.

Will hacking your car be a major threat?

Apostolos took this question and called car hacking “…a very real threat.” It will require extensive regulatory input and additional laws to protect drivers. Gilbert believes this threat will slow the potential for vehicle to vehicle communications. It will be easy for hackers to commandeer other cars once they catch one sensor. The issue could spread quickly in any high-traffic areas.

What’s next in car tech?

“We are at a tipping point with tech in cars,” says Gilbert who has seen many topics coming out the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in auto tech. Gilbert suspects we will see many more partnerships like the Domino’s Pizza ordering application that will be in Ford’s new line of cars. For Domino’s, it is not only an app but a free daily advertisement to potential customers. This will create a lot of marketing opportunities. Pontius took this question another way, predicting there will be a greater “…interdependence with various systems.” This means that the automobile will begin functioning more seamlessly between systems. Apostolos and Klarr see automobile-to-automobile communication and automobile-to-driver communication on the rise.

The entire panel seemed to agree on one thing: There has never been another time when cars were advancing this quickly in tech. We recently saw glimpse of the future of high-tech automotive at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. What do you see?




Don McLean is a Senior Account Executive at Airfoil, an integrated marketing communications firm, with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong.  Follow Don on Twitter: @McLean_Don