The trend toward 'by-wire' automotive applications may one day allow carmakers to produce a single model for both left- and right-hand-drive markets.
But 'by-wire' technology will take the industry a few years to develop, said Andrew Brown, director of engineering at Delphi Automotive Systems. 'In five to eight years more of these techniques will come together into an integrated system,' he said.
By-wire systems control mechanical functions such as braking, steering, throttle and suspension systems with wires, sensors,
controllers and actuators. They are being developed throughout the auto industry.
The technology eventually could mean carmakers need not build specific left- and right-hand-drive models, according to Delphi. A steering module could be plugged into the left or right of the dashboard, depending on market requirements.
A driver traveling between left- and right-hand drive countries could unplug the car's steering module and re-install it on the other side of the dashboard.
Brake-by-wire and throttle-by-wire are currently under development at Delphi's research center in Brighton, Michigan in the USA. Both systems are expected to appear on the market in 2003.
Brake-by-wire technology eventually will supersede traditional hydraulic brakes, said Delphi engineers. The system is based on the brake pedal generating an electrical signal to act on electromechanical actuators placed in the brake of each wheel. Similarly, throttle-by-wire will do away with traditional throttle cables.
Steering-by-wire should arrive two or three years after brake-by-wire, probably integrated with the other by-wire applications, said Delphi technical specialist James Card.
'Mercedes-Benz has been very vocal about `by-wire' and would like to incorporate this technology by 2005,' said Card. 'I see a limited introduction in 2005 or 2006, and volume application in 2007.'
It is steering-by-wire that most excites Card. 'The big advantages are in space saving and flexibility of design that allows the removal of mechanical links.'