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Old 10-14-2007, 11:47 AM   #1
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Less Fuel and More Safety

Less fuel use and more safety
October 14, 2007

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Three technologies you may never have heard of are about to make cars safer, more powerful and more fuel efficient.

They are blind-spot alert, direct gasoline injection and dual-clutch transmissions.
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So far, only a few luxury and performance vehicles benefit from them, but these technologies are about to go mainstream.

There's a fourth that you may not initially think of as a safety feature, but it's got huge potential: Ford's new Sync.

Sync may be the niftiest new gadget in any car this year. It's also easy to overlook, because it debuts on the mundane 2008 Focus.

Ignore the packaging; treasure the gift. Sync -- developed with Microsoft, and soon to be available on nearly everything Ford sells -- is the real deal. Among other things, it lets you give voice commands to your iPod and cell phone. This doesn't just mean you can tell the car to call home or play the new Springsteen album; it reduces the likelihood that some idiot will rear-end you because he was texting instead of watching the road.

• Direct gasoline injection will make your own driving thriftier and more fun, because it wrings extra performance and fuel economy out of your engine. It uses a high-pressure pump and lightning-fast electronics to squirt just the right amount of fuel into each cylinder at precisely the right time.

Direct injection started out in diesel engines. It's been around in high-performance gasoline engines for a few years, but the breakthrough comes this year with the Cadillac CTS, the only direct-injection engine that recommends regular gasoline instead of pricier premium. It ratchets the CTS's horsepower up 15%, improves fuel economy 3% and reduces startup hydrocarbon emissions 25%.

• Dual-clutch transmissions use electronic controls to automatically shift a gearbox that's mechanically similar to a manual. They reduce fuel consumption as much as 6% and give you the option of taking over the controls for quick shifts in sporty driving. They've been around for a while, but the early ones had rough head-snapping shifts.

That's changed. Volkswagen makes its own line of dual-clutch transmissions, using them to boost performance and fuel economy in models like the Audi TT. Chrysler is expected to be the first Detroit automaker to install a dual-clutch transmission, which it will offer on its Dodge Journey crossover sometime in 2008.

Ford also is enthusiastic about the dual-clutch transmission, but there's no word on when it will get one on the road in North America.

Ford and Chrysler developed their dual-clutch transmissions with German transmission specialist Getrag, but the world's leading supplier for the technology is Auburn Hills-based BorgWarner.

BorgWarner makes control modules that all dual-clutch transmissions, including VW and Getrag's, use. It expects to boost production of the gearbox five-fold over the next six years, to 2.3 million by 2013.

• Blind-spot alert systems started out in high-end models from Audi, Infiniti and Volvo. They warn the driver when another vehicle is over his or her shoulder, in the spot toughest to check before changing lanes.

GM's take on the technology hits the road in the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS this fall. GM's system is the most useful I've tested so far. It calculates relative speed, so the warning lights in the sideview mirrors don't go off every time you pass somebody. The amber light also flashes urgently if you indicate a lane change while another vehicle is too close.

Driving purists will dismiss blind-spot alerts as another nanny system, watching over your shoulder to protect you from yourself.

I'm not buying it. At one time or another, we've all been saved from a lane-changing disaster by dumb luck or another driver's quick reaction. If a couple of sensors and a warning light can make the roads safer, bring on the new technologies.

Contact MARK PHELAN at phelan@freepress.com or 313-222-6731.
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Old 10-14-2007, 11:49 AM   #2
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GM's 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine. The breakthrough comes this year with the Cadillac CTS, the only direct-injection engine that recommends regular gasoline instead of pricier premium.
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Old 10-14-2007, 12:12 PM   #3
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I'm lovin it! I'm really interested in when GM will start using DCTs....I haven't heard anything about them even looking into it -- and they weren't mentioned in that article

Maybe the auto-tranny will become GM's next hallmark? like the pushrods?

DI the LS3! Do it! Oh, and upgrade the fuel system to E85, GM! ...please....
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