NEW YORK -- Determined to put more than a century of ozone depletion and decaying metal frames firmly in the rearview mirror, some automakers are finally designing their cars to be nicer to mother nature.
At the 2003 New York International Automobile Show ,Volvo unveiled a car that actually cleans the air around it, while Ford showed off a car that uses recyclable organic materials for its interior. Volvo's Versatility Concept Car, while powered by a standard combustion engine, includes a patented air filtering system that the company claims does more good than harm. The Volvo Ambient Air Cleaner system sucks in air from outside the vehicle and removes the nasty hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides by burning them up in the engine and catalytic converter. According to Volvo spokesman Christopher Westerberg, this filtering process can actually remove the equivalent of three cars' exhaust emissions during the course of a day. The air filtering can even continue when the engine is off because it receives power from solar cells embedded in the roof of the car, Westerberg said. Versatility's fuel efficiency is enhanced by "Direct Start and Stop" technology that shuts down the engine whenever it comes to a complete stop. Instead of using a key to start the car, the Versatility uses a remote control to open the door that drivers place on a console below the gearshift to engage the engine. The remote, called the V-Pulse, also works like a baby monitor to let the owner know that the car is okay. The remote pulses like a heartbeat when "baby" is well, but if the alarm goes off, or if the owner forgets to lock the car, the pulse speeds up and a small display alerts you that it's time to drop your fork and run to the parking lot. In addition to adding features to preserve the environment and your sanity, Volvo has designed two compartments below the rear of the car's floor to preserve your food or beverage of choice. The side-by-side luggage compartments are used to cool or heat the contents. Consumers are interested in the keyless entry feature, but have concerns about safety and security, said John Tews, a spokesman for research firm J.D. Power and Associates "For example, if you have a medical emergency (and can't get out of the vehicle), would people outside be able to get in?" Ford showed off its concept of an eco-friendly sedan at the auto show, which runs through April 27th. The Model U burns hydrogen instead of petroleum, and substitutes foodstuffs for plastics in some of its materials. The seat-covers in the Model U are made of a corn-based fabric, and the company also uses maize inside the rubber tires. Processed soybeans are incorporated into the polyurethane seating foam as well as the tailgate and the material that lines the roof. Tews said he saw a surprising number of hybrid and fuel-efficient cars at the auto show. "Car makers seem to be paying a lot more attention to making their vehicles environmentally friendly." Instead of opting for a hydrogen fuel-cell engine, which many carmakers see as the eventual successor to gasoline-powered engines, Ford is using a hydrogen combustion engine in the Model U. The company has adapted the engine from its Ford Ranger to burn hydrogen instead of gasoline. Unfortunately for Ford, the futuristic technology that was getting most of the oohs and aahs from passersby wasn't related to its cars. The kiosk for the Model U used a projection screen that enables people to grab and move information by waving their hand in the air, a technology that was prominently featured in the 2002 movie Minority Report. While neither Ford nor Volvo said when or if their concept cars might appear at a showroom, according to Volvo, two of the last three concept cars it's designed have been turned into production vehicles. But facets of these designs may hit showrooms before too long. "The trend at auto shows is toward cars that could be in production soon -- maybe even within a year -- rather than going for the 'way out' designs of years past," Tews said. John Gartner © Wired News
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