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Five lessons drive-by-wire systems can teach shops on new technology

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 09:00
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During the summer of 2005, ABRN published an article on the status of drive-by-wire systems (see "Steering status," June 2005) and the “hurry up and wait” stance the repair industry was having to take with this technology. Talk on these supposedly emerging systems had gone on for years. The automotive press was rife with stories and speculation on drive-by-wire vehicles, and yet the technology seemed elusive. Shops prepared the best they could, braced for an influx of game-changing tech, and still nothing happened.    

More than a decade later, little seems to have changed. With the exception of some throttle-, shift- and park-by-wire setups, steering systems being discussed/developed have rarely made a presence outside an OEM engineering department or concept vehicle (for example the GM EN-V). Braking, particularly park-by-wire systems, have fared better and become part of mass-produced vehicles, but their presence pales in comparison to traditional braking. 

(Photo courtesy of GM Media) GM’s EN-V (Electric Networked-Vehicle) is one of many drive-by-wire concepts automakers have created as they continue to look for ways to bring by-wire technology into the mainstream.

What happened with the technology that proved its worth in other industries (most notably aviation and heavy-duty equipment) and once seemed destined to quickly move into the automotive world?  

Pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of coffee. The answer to that question is long and involved. It also provides valuable insight how some technologies find a way into an ever-changing market while others sit on the sidelines a bit longer—sometimes much longer. Understanding how industry forces determine which technologies shops see is the one of the keys to preparing for what new repairs your shop must handle. The continuing journey of by-wire technology, in particular steer-by-wire, offers important lessons on how repairers can do just that.    

Lesson #1: Great expectations don’t always translate into great results

The incentives driving the implementation of by-wire technology have been the same ones pushing most automotive developments: improved efficiency and cost reduction. The traditional hydraulic systems used for braking and steering use heavy hydraulic units that drag down mileage. Because hydraulics incorporate multiple movable parts, they also require significant owner investments in maintenance and service.  

Drive-by-wire systems, in contrast, utilize electrical units that weigh far less, incorporate fewer moving parts and integrate software upgrades that can be programmed to provide more efficient, controlled operation. Making them even more attractive, they provide ideal baseline components for alternative fuel vehicles where they can have an even greater impact on fuel efficiency and attract a customer base eager to get its hands on the latest tech. A number of OEMs geared by-wire research to their hybrid and electric products. General Motors tied the development of by-wire steering to its Hy-Wire concept. 

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