The Car of the Future


Prof. Richard Folkson, Product Verification and Testing Manager, Ford of Europe

Prestige Lecture at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, 2nd November 2004


Prof. Folkson concentrated on 3 “Mega-Trends” in the automotive environment as the driving factors for the “Car of the Future”; zero emissions, zero fatalities and freedom of consumer choice. 


New enabling technology was interpreted mainly as being “more electronics” in vehicle, new systems predicted include x-by-wire (steer, brake etc.), Controller Area Network (CAN) bus wiring, Electric Power Valve Train (EPVT) and speed control (i.e. speed control via GPS to limit upper speed in certain geographic areas).  The increase in Electronic Control Units (ECU’s) in vehicle was illustrated with the growth in the Ford range, a Fiesta in 1999 having only 4 whereas in 2004 this model has 14, similarly the Focus had 11 when first introduced and the latest revision (the C-Max) currently has up to 41 ECU’s on board. 


Advantage of CAN were given as simplifying the wiring, reducing overall cable length (and hence weight) in the vehicle and reduced number of connectors.  Also it was claimed that CAN will improve reliability, reduce warranty (I assume Prof. Folkson mean warranty claims) and potentially be an industry wide system (hence further economies of scale across the industry).


Safety features likely to become more popular are on-board distance sensors (radar, currently used for Adaptive Cruise Control, ACC), lane alert sensors, driver alertness sensors and adaptive lighting.  Externally controls could come from speed control via GPS and automatic accident location.


Environmental issues not necessarily directly influenced by the electronics were suggested as more use of diesel engines (Prof. Folkson confessing his diesel allegiance), spark-ignition (SI) engines approaching the efficiency of diesels (I assumed via direct injection technologies although these were not explicitly mentioned), fuel cell vehicles and hybrids.  The problems with diesels will remain the NOx emissions, likewise for SI engines the CO2.  Prof. Folkson was somewhat dismissive of current hybrids, claiming that on a motorway his diesel efficiency is better than that of the Toyota Prius.  Other engine factors are what Prof. Folkson described as On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) but really means exhaust gas sensing and analysis on-board (to most readers of this I expect OBD to mean engine and electrical system diagnostics via plug-in or remote test stations).  The Ford hybrid vehicle costing $4M was shown in a slide, however, the CO2 emissions from generating the necessary hydrogen to run this via cracking oil to release the hydrogen or the building work to produce enough wind-farms was mentioned as a possible reason this won’t be too popular in the near future (the vehicle cost has been reduced to $250k for those interested in buying one today).


Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) as a method of reducing emissions was considered.  The possibility of having congestion avoidance to reduce static traffic, automated road tolling and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) collected on a Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) basis were mentioned.  Another new feature may be PAYD insurance rates depending on driving patterns and geographic coverage, electronic vehicle ID for cradle-to-grave tracking, in vehicle back-box recorders and more use of satellite navigation (Sat-Nav) as enabling technology for the ITS infrastructure.


Materials technology for vehicles is mainly targeting weight reductions, however, this leads to what Prof. Folkson described as the weight dichotomy; lighter vehicles are potentially less safe and there is a cost and convenience factor with some materials.  The increased use of aluminium and magnesium is forecast, but useful plastics have problems meeting legislation such as End of Live Vehicle (ELV) directive for recycling.


In the second half of the lecture Prof. Folkson talked about what the vehicle manufacturers are doing to address some of the “Mega-Trend” issues.


Improving the engineering process to reduce time-to-market is an area that computer simulation has helped significantly in recent years.  The example of the use of simulation for a Mondeo vehicle revision reducing the cycle time from 36 to 24 months.  Simulation of vehicle stresses over road surfaces and body crumple under crash-test were shown, the crash test in particular being very impressive with the simulation and test results proving extremely close matches.


In manufacturing vehicle makers are trying to be more flexible, this has entailed use of common platforms, faster turnaround for new builds, customisation on the line and rapid prototyping potentially moving to rapid manufacturing and missing out the prototype stage.


There is a significant business challenge for vehicle makers, more variety of vehicles on common platforms, increased competition across each market segment and the higher investment costs for a smaller customer base.  In mature markets (e.g. Europe) the growth over the last 15 or so years has been low to almost no markets (depending in geographic region in Europe).  The growth in variations was illustrated with a look at a 1960’s Ford Cortina and 2004 Focus (see table below).  An illustration of the competition and fragmentation was provided for the C-Car segment (representing 40% of the European market) with the impact of compact Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPV’s), in-roads by low cost suppliers and the premium brand vehicles down-sizing products for this market segment.








3 2 2 2


6 14 4 13


Managing product development going forward is a complex issue for vehicle makers including shared platforms (common across makers) and power train alliances (e.g. Ford and Peugeot for diesel engines) for better sourcing efficiencies in a fragmenting market.  A feature of future cars will also be global products (the Focus has been a best seller in both Europe and the USA).


As the presentation was at the University of Hertfordshire (there were over 100 students in attendance) Prof. Folkson also looked at what new engineers need for the automotive industry.  This included mechanical and electrical and electronics education and a systems approach.


In conclusion Prof. Folkson said the Car of the Future would feature “chips” with everything, more choice for the consumer, improved safety, reduced environmental impact at a reduced cost.



Global Legislation: there was not thought to be any push towards true global legislation for vehicles but Prof. Folkson believed Europe and the USA may move closer.

Motorsport: although Ford has pulled out of F1 for 2005 they have committed to World Rally for the next 4 years.  Prof. Folkson believed that while there were links between product developments and motorsport and World Rally was a better test bed than F1.

Why only SI and Diesel engines: mainly due to their early developments and history meaning these technologies have a head start in cost terms over anything new coming along.

Best and worst for the future: best was thought by Prof. Folkson being the USA signing up to the Kyoto accord and reducing emissions and improving economy of US vehicles, worse would be the status quo.

Editor: the results of the US election the following day suggest the worst is going to come true!




The lecture was extremely well attended, approximately 200 in the audience, and Prof. Folkson was a fluent and articulate presenter.  There was, in my opinion, absolutely nothing really new or ground breaking in the presentation.  Prof. Folkson did make the statement that this was his opinion of the Future Car and not that of Ford and I truly hope so as otherwise the Ford Car of the Future is the current top-range Jaguar already on the road (even the Citroen C5 has many of the “future” features mentioned).  The mentioning of CAN for example was really superfluous, even mid-range cars, such as the Focus, already feature CAN and surely the future is in MOST (Media Oriented System Transport), Flexray or Bluetooth networks?  His relative dismissal of hybrids was also a disappointment, these are again here today (the Toyota Prius is in second revision) and most vehicle makers, with possible the exception of Ford, have hybrid programmes for production vehicles already in place.  Also the question of why diesel and SI engines could have been countered with the next generation potentially being electrical power train?  There was also no mention of the 42V Powernet as a technology enabler for EPVT and most x-by-wire systems, or Integrated-Starter-Alternator (ISA) technology, something I would have expected for near-future vehicles.


It is possibly my closeness to the industry and regular attendance at IMechE Automotive Division events that means I already have a view on what the "Car of the Future" will contain, this talk was clearly aimed at the layman and non-technical audience.  The most interesting aspect for myself was definitely the business challenges that the vehicle makers face and I will be watching closely on how Ford tackle this.


M. Smith

November 2004  

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