DETROIT: Car technology is on the increase with self-driving cars and health-monitoring seats all turning from science fiction to science fact.
As such, when V3's sister site THE INQUIRER headed to the North American and International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit to see some of the latest innovations on show, we were keen to see what they unearthed.
One of the most interesting announcements they came across was from Telsa, which was showing off its Model X SUV featuring an in-built tablet control panel.
The car was actually first unveiled in February 2012, and the Model X SUV is still in the prototype stage. However, with gull-wing doors, a front-mounted boot and seven seats it's clearly no small-scale project. It's also said to have a zero to 60mph time of around five seconds. Speedy.
Based on the four-door Tesla Model S that Tesla also showed off at NAIAS, the Model X features some updates such as all-wheel drive, thanks to an additional electric motor mounted at the front wheels.
The main feature that caught our eye, though, was that the Model X exhibited Tesla's updated in-car control centre that features a 17in capacitive LCD touchscreen, the biggest we've seen in a car yet.
Debuting in the Model S when it ships in the US later this year, the Linux-based technology will allow the driver to manage features such as climate and music control as well as navigation via Google Maps.
Better still, you'll be able to browse the web and program driving settings, such as "ride feel". Such settings allow drivers to optimise the vehicle with sounds to make it feel more like an authentic motor vehicle, because the silent drive on an electric-powered car generally lacks that factor.
The 17in display is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, meaning it will be powerful enough to run a variety of content without lag. However, one drawback is that you cannot view video on the screen, for safety reasons, even when the engine is turned off.
Tesla said that early customers of the technology won't have to pay a penny for it during the first year of use, although monthly pricing might be introduced later on.
Another feature with Tesla's in-car technology is that you can tether your phone or tablet and use its data plan to stream content from your mobile device to the display. Tesla's control centre also has upgradable firmware, giving the driver peace of mind that it is future-proof too.
The instrument displays including the speedometer and fuel gauge are also based on digital displays, allowing the driver to customise what is shown via buttons on the steering wheel.
Deliveries for the Tesla Model X will begin in 2014, however in-car technology will come as standard on the Tesla Model S, which has already started shipping across in the US and can be expected to reach the UK by early 2014.
V3 was given an access all areas tour of the M-Sport workshop at Dovenby Hall in Cumbria, home to the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, to see the technology used to help design and build a £400,000 rally car.
There are 214 employees working at the 5,575 square metre site where they design, build, test and assemble Ford's WRC competition cars.
With the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) introducing strict regulations for the removal of technology this season to reduce costs, many high-tech components such as paddle gearboxes, electronic differentials and active suspension have been lost.
Interestingly, almost all the parts of the rally car are taken from a standard road car and modified, and here we take a look at how the process comes together.
The entire Ford Fiesta is modelled in CAD – every component is drawn, stress tested and then manufactured. Engineers also draw parts by hand when something urgently needs to be created.
Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala and Christian Loriaux, technical director, ponder over the design
Engineers pluck a shell from the Ford Focus roadcar production line, and it takes 750 man hours to optimise it before it can be used as the basis for a rally car.
Jari-Matti Latvala takes a glance at one of the racing car shells
The shell is reinforced with 40 metres of roll-cage tubing to make it as stable and as safe as possible. The roll cage is capable of surviving huge impacts and crashes that can generate forces of 100G.
Reliability is just as important as performance and the team tests every part that goes into the car at least three times to minimise the chance of component failure.
A collective test is then carried out at Kirkbride Airfield – to make sure that everything operates together as it should under correct temperatures and stresses.
The driver does the final test under rally conditions before the event in what is known as the 'shakedown' to make sure that everything is ready.
Each component has a part number laser etched onto it, allowing engineers to track the part through its life, and change it at the right time. If any part is found to be faulty, the team can also remove all other parts that were from the same batch to minimise the risk of failure.
This circuit board is designed to represent the entire electrical system for the car. All electrical items are manufactured to aircraft specifications to keep them as lightweight as possible, and to enable them to handle high temperatures (over 900 degrees) and aggressive vibrations.
One of the most crucial parts of any rally car is the engine. The current Abu Dhabi Ford WRC car uses a Ford 1.6 direct injection turbo engine, which is heavily modified. Each engine is designed to have a life of 1,600km or three rallies after which it is used for testing and then rebuilt.
The team creates two engine maps for the car – one for the road and the other for the rally stage. The road mapping allows the car to be as efficient as possible, whereas the stage mapping makes the throttle more responsive and generates more power.
The above engine test cell is worth €2m
The testing system puts a variable load on the engine to test performance and can simulate different climates ranging from Sweden (-30°c) to Mexico (35°c), for example. Engineers can then change the manual configuration or electronic mapping to see which configuration is the fastest depending on the climate.
The assembly area is capable of holding 22 cars. After each rally, cars are stripped down and it takes the engineers typically around eight to 10 days to carry out a rebuild.
However, time constraints often mean that a car needs to be put together in as little as three days. The team will be participating in the Spanish Rally on 20-23 October and will come to the UK for the final rally of the season on 10 November.