The technology sector of the auto industry is advancing at a rapid pace. So fast, in fact, that if you blink something might be missed. New high-tech features are a key selling point in many higher-end or luxury vehicles today. It’s only logical that these new technologies launch in more expensive vehicles, because they are costly to engineer, develop, and produce. Premium platforms can more readily absorb the higher costs because they have greater profit margins.
That said, many of the advanced systems that were new to market just a year or two ago are working their way into more mainstream models. It’s simply the natural evolution of the car market. Coincidentally, many of these sophisticated on-board systems are now standard or optional features in electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Some of the latest electronic wizardry is targeting future autonomous transportation, or at least partial autonomous mobility. We are already seeing the first steps today. Some current production models feature automatic emergency braking to avoid an imminent collision or warn s driver if their car is drifting out of their lane. Some driver assistance systems also provide gentle steering input to keep a car centered in its lane if drifting occurs when a turn signal is not engaged.
Self-parking technology allows vehicles to parallel or head-in park without a driver touching the steering wheel, accelerator, or brakes. To accomplish this, a vehicle is equipped with sensors in the front, rear, and on the sides to determine distances to nearby objects. With that information, a car’s on-board computer can provide accurate control inputs to accomplish the parking sequence. Parking is done efficiently on the first shot, clearing the lane while saving both time and fuel.
The evolution of adding exterior cameras on vehicles began with rear-facing backup cameras. These transmit a real-time rear view to a dash-mounted display, allowing a driver to more accurately see what’s behind the vehicle. This very useful technology has filtered down to just about any car or truck with an LCD display. More advanced systems show the path a vehicle will take as the steering wheel is turned.
That was just the beginning. Cameras now proliferate in other locations on vehicles as well. The latest development places cameras on the sides of a vehicle, with some integrating eight cameras placed all around the vehicle perimeter. These provide information used in lane departure mitigation by reading lane markers and other side threats. When a lane departure is detected without a turn signal, some manufacturers alert a driver audibly and visually while others vibrate or pulse the steering wheel or seat to get a driver’s attention.
Another advantage of having cameras mounted all around the vehicle is the ability to show a birds-eye view of a car or truck on its LCD display. All camera views are stitched together to provide what can best be described as an image from a drone hovering above the vehicle. A top view image of the vehicle is superimposed in the middle. This takes back-up camera safety to a whole new level since a driver can check for pedestrians, small children, and other obstructions that might otherwise be missed from the driver’s seat. It is especially helpful in taller vehicles like trucks and SUVs.
Enabling much of the latest technology is the proliferation of LCD screens in the dash. Most of these displays are touch screen, providing increased control over various electronic functions. The goal is to provide the information and interface without it becoming a distraction to the driver, so eyes and attention aren’t diverted from the road for too long. To solve this, many systems now have a voice interface that allows the driver to push a steering wheel-mounted button and tell the car what they would like it to do, much like Apple’s Siri.
Of course, one of the first electronic functions to be integrated into LCD displays was GPS navigation. This handy function assists in driving more efficiently by suggesting the most direct or quickest route, thereby saving fuel. We’re all familiar with the way these systems adjust on the fly, redirecting a driver if you wander from the designated route by providing audible navigation prompts for getting back on track. This intelligent operation means eyes can stay on the road, an operating strategy that other ‘smart’ on-board systems would be wise to follow. Electric cars and plug-in hybrids can also find the nearest public charging station using most nav systems, a handy thing if you are driving in unfamiliar territory.
Traction control, a system that detects drive wheel spin and adjusts power and braking accordingly to keep a vehicle moving forward, has been with us for many years now. While not connected to the road in the ‘smart’ sense like the newest driver assist technologies, manufacturers are taking this concept another step with vehicle rotation and wheel speed sensors at all four wheels to keep the vehicle from spinning-out and losing control. Though there are different names for this technology, it is commonly referred to as yaw control since it detects rotation of the vehicle and applies power or braking to individual wheels as needed, thus preventing the potential for spin.
Technologies facilitating communication between vehicles and the surrounding environment hold great promise and are already being deployed to a degree. With car-to-car interaction, a driver could be alerted in advance to slippery conditions if a car ahead experiences wheel slip or traction control is activated. Two-way communication between vehicles can also be used to warn of road hazards, or by emergency vehicles to alert nearby drivers to proceed with caution or give way.
One of the most useful technologies to come out in the past few years is adaptive cruise control. This feature gauges distance to the vehicle in front when cruise control is set. If that vehicle is going slower than the set cruise speed in your vehicle, cruise speed will be reduced to match the vehicle ahead and keep a safe distance. Adaptive cruise control systems typically allow a driver to select the distance they feel is safe. Most systems will also bring your car to a complete stop and apply braking if necessary to avoid a collision or an object in the road.
This is made possible by the integration of forward-facing radar. The radar sends a signal out that bounces off vehicles or objects and is returned to the vehicle’s receiver. An on-board computer then calculates distance and closing speed to determine what appropriate actions are required. More advanced adaptive cruise control detection incorporates LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). LIDAR works much like radar but uses lasers to read distance.
In the not-too-distant future, cars will communicate with smart city infrastructures in addition to other vehicles on the road. Greater use of cellular signals for this communication plus satellite information will also be required. Work on this front is already well underway as it will be necessary for implementing both semi- and fully-autonomous vehicle operation.
All of this new and future connected technology requires considerable computing power inside the vehicle, which will add weight and require a very stout electrical system. The connected car trend has considerable momentum and is sure to advance at a rapid pace in the future. So don’t blink…or you may well mist the next big breakthrough in this fast-paced field!
The CT6 Plug-In is Cadillac's answer to the growing market for premium plug-in hybrid vehicles that deliver greater efficiency and environmental performance, while also offering the high levels of luxury, comfort, and advanced on-board electronics expected by premium car buyers. All this brought recognition in Washington DC this year as the CT6 Plug-In was honored as Green Car Journal’s 2018 Connected Car of the Year™ for these attributes and its suite of sophisticated electronics
This is not Cadillac’s first go at a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Its initial effort was the ELR produced from 2013-2016, a beautifully-designed plug-in luxury coupe that did not find a ready market at the time and is no longer in the Cadillac line. This new $75,000 CT6 Plug-In, based the acclaimed Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan, is a significantly stronger effort that offers plenty to the luxury car buyer including sophisticated style, a refined and accommodating cabin, and very satisfying performance.
Power is provided by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 265 horsepower with 295 lb-ft torque. It works with twin 100 horsepower electric motors integrated into a newly developed electric variable transmission that delivers power to the rear wheels. This combination provides a total system output of 335 horsepower and 432 lb-ft torque in what Cadillac call a blended hybrid configuration.
An 18.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located between the rear seat and trunk provides the CT6 Plug-In a battery electric range of 31 miles at speeds up to 78 mph. This pack can be charged overnight from a standard 120-volt outlet or in about 4.5 hours with a 240-volt charger. Only an incidental amount of charging come from the gasoline engine/generator. Regenerative braking also delivers electricity to the batteries.
Along with electric-only mode, a driver has a choice of three other operating modes – Normal, Sport, and Hold. In Normal mode, the system switches between electric-only, hybrid, and gasoline engine-only operation to optimize performance and fuel economy. In Sport mode, this plug-in hybrid delivers more aggressive throttle response for quicker acceleration, plus sportier steering. Hold mode conserves battery capacity for urban driving at a later time and uses the gasoline engine for highway driving or higher speed conditions.
The CT6 Plug-In’s 31 mile all electric-range is likely to fit the daily driving needs of many drivers, which means zero-emission motoring every day. Beyond that, this plug-in hybrid’s combined driving range of about 440 miles with a full charge and 15.6-gallon tank fits all possible driving needs, meaning no range anxiety and no compromises. EPA estimates the car’s fuel efficiency while driving on battery power at an equivalent 62 mpg (MPGe), with overall efficiency on hybrid power rated at 23 city and 29 highway mpg, which is quite respectable for a luxury vehicle weighing in at over two tons.
Regen on Demand allows the use of steering wheel-mounted paddles to select a desired level of brake regeneration and regen-induced brake drag, from light to very aggressive. Using more aggressive regen delivers significant levels of drag and stopping power when lifting off the accelerator, allowing conventional brakes to be reserved for those instances when maximum braking is desired or required. Exclusively using the throttle and paddles delivers in more refined and fun driving experience.
The CT6 Plug-In's connectivity and on-board electronics capabilities are impressive. Among these systems is the automaker’s CUE Information and Media Control System with Navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, OnStar 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless cellphone charging, and Bluetooth with voice recognition. A rear camera mirror camera and automatic parking enhance convenience. Driver awareness systems includes Forward Collision Alert that monitors traffic ahead and alerts if a collision is imminent. A Following Distance indicator in the Driver Information Center displays following time relative to the vehicle ahead. Surround Vision provides a birds-eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Of course, the CT6 Plug-In is well-equipped with driver assist systems. Lane Keep Assist gently steers the car if it’s determined a driver is unintentionally leaving a lane when directional signals are not used. Side Blind Zone Alert displays a warning in the outside rearview mirrors when a vehicle is detected in a blind spot, or if a car is rapidly approaching that spot. Also included is Adaptive Cruise Control, which automatically accelerates and brakes to maintain a driver-selected following distance to the vehicle ahead. Forward and Reverse Automatic Braking senses front or rear collisions and applies brakes as needed. Night vision and a reconfigurable head-up display are also welcome additions.
Cadillac’s CT6 Plug-In is an exceptionally well-crafted luxury vehicle that delivers all the features expected in its class, with the addition of leading-edge electronics that enhance convenience and safety. It delivers a premium driving experience with responsive handling and welcome performance, all the while providing increased efficiency and the option of zero-emission driving that’s increasingly desired in today’s new-generation vehicles. It’s a job very well done.