2012 SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) World Congress in
Slowly Shrinking But Still Full of Surprises
By Steve Purdy
Photos By Bob Benko
There once was a time when the main hall of Cobo Center in downtown Detroit
was filled with exhibitors vying for the attention of automakers and
engineers touting everything from bearing balls to engines - every
conceivable piece it takes to build a car, truck, boat or plane. Many years
of a rapidly restructuring industry has resulted in a much smaller show,
but we still find plenty of surprises to grab our attention.
Now, as regular readers will know, I’m not much of a
technology guy and I write mostly about cars, the people and places, but I
love to come to the SAE show to discover tidbits of knowledge that shed
light on how cars are developed, how they are made and what’s coming
next. So, here are a few highlights:
How often do we find an entirely new type of engine? I found one
here - the Doyle Rotary Engine. I think we would more accurately call it a
radial engine since the two banks of six cylinders, displacing a total of
4.2-liters, each rotate around a central, shared combustion chamber. One
bank of cylinders provides intake and compression. The other bank is for
power and exhaust. We’ve never seen a radial engine with an even
number of cylinders, nor anything of this odd configuration. Developer,
Lonny Doyle, has been working on this by himself for over 20 years, and
it’s a long way from practicality, but he’s here showing it off
Over at the TARDEC booth we found their just-completed Army fuel efficient
concept vehicle called FED for Fuel Efficient ground vehicle Demonstrator,
is an attempt to show what can be done to drastically increase fuel economy
for a vehicle that can do the job of the venerable HUMVEE. TARDEC (the
Army’s Tank Automotive Development and Engineering Center) located in
Warren, MI is the facility that does just about all the military’s
vehicular R&D. This concept vehicle, partially designed byt students at the
Center for Creative Studies gets an amazing 9.5-mpg (a 90% increase over
the 4.5-mpg of the HUMVEE) with it hybrid powertrain, low rolling
resistance tires, regenerative braking and every other innovation they
could think of. This one is not destined for production. It’s just a
concept to show off the possibilities. They’ve promised me some seat
time as soon as we can arrange it, so look for a feature on this one.
Another surprise was the concept car from Tata Engineering. You may
recognize that name as the maker of the cheapest (they would say least
expensive) car in the world the Tata Nano, little Indian put-put car. Well,
the Nano is made by an entirely separate company, Tata Automotive. This
fully electric Tata Emo (Electric Mobility study) with 100 mile range
features a raft of innovative design details focused on reducing cost and
complexity while still being a comfortable, practical conveyance for four.
I was most taken by the vertical, one-piece, polycarbonate rear window with
lights integrated therein. Think of all the parts that would save. They say
this electric car would cost just 20 grand.
Nearby on the FEV stand we were stuck by the big marine engine on display.
Somehow they packed a 557-horsepower V8 engine into a vertical
configuration encased in a shroud that looked like the packaging of an
marine engine half its size. The challenge, they said, was in engineering
the vertical output for a horizontal engine.
A big part of the SAE World Congress is the presentation of
hundreds of technical papers, sort of like an academic having to be
published to gain prestige. To show how cerebral these guys are here is the
title of one of the technical papers that won an Award of Merit:
“Applying Detailed Kinetics to Realistic Engine Simulation, the
Surrogate Blend Optimizer and Mechanism Reduction Strategies.” If you
understand what that means then I guess you’re one of them.
We also heard from top executives of EV programs at Ford, GM, Chrysler and Honda echo The Auto Channel opinion that EV's will not now and may never have a meaningful impact on America's NEED to replace gasoline with a sustainable and domestic fuel. The title of that session was "Kissing frogs while seeking petrol alternatives"
We always love to browse the SAE show in spite of its ever-shrinking size,
always finding fascinating tidbits to write about.
And, watch for our story on the big TARDEC concept vehicle.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Producitons, All Rights