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New car tech innovations with a distinct German feel

By autotech-nath on February 22, 2022


The keyless entry system has allowed car thieves to replace their hammers, chisels and wire-cutters with more discrete and sophisticated electrical devices. Rather than suffer the ignominy of reintroducing the humble ignition key, carmakers have tried to keep one step ahead of the criminal fraternity. Yet, considering the numbers of modern vehicles that are going AWOL, they do not seem to be winning.

Working with Google and Samsung, BMW’s latest addition to keyless tech is to utilise that piece of technology that we all (albeit some reluctantly) carry with us: the mobile telephone. Just as some banking apps permit touchless payments, by just presenting the screen, so too can a driver unlock and lock a Bimmer, by holding the ‘phone against the driver’s side door handle. When the ‘phone is ensconced within the centre console’s wireless charging compartment, it authorises the immobiliser to permit an engine start.

The system is configured on the ‘My BMW’ App, making the Digital Key a potential option for almost all current production BMW cars. To reassure critics, BMW says that the BMW Digital Key is stored on “the secure element of the smartphone”, whatever that means. Even so, development is ongoing and BMW plans to extend the Digital Key capability beyond Samsung Galaxy S21 and Google Pixel 6 devices in the future. In addition, upcoming releases will see digital keys for the same vehicle being transferred between up to five smartphones. If holding a ‘phone close to the door handle remains too much of an inconvenience, BMW Digital Key Plus can be used with smartphones that possess an ultra wideband frequency (UWB) facility instead of just Near Field Communication (NFC). It is also said that UWB signals can be neither jammed, nor intercepted (yet).


Considering that diesel is promoted as demonic, it is courageous for certain car manufacturers not to sign the COP-26 agreement to end the sale of fossil-fuelled vehicles, because so many uncertainties remain. One would have thought that Volkswagen, the whipping-boy (but not the sole sinner) of ‘diesel-gate,’ would be determined to repent and sign on the dotted line. Yet, it did not.

Going further, it has announced an intention to continue its combustion engine developments in parallel to expanding its electric offerings. As the company plans to reduce the 2030 CO2 emissions of its fleet by 40%, it sees diesel as an essential part of that ambition. By doing so, it says that the Volkswagen Group is responding to different customer needs, while taking into account the different drive system preferences of its global customers. Therefore, it has announced that its four-cylinder diesel engines, made from June 2021, can run on renewable fuels, which comply with the EN15940 European standard.

The company reports that these newly developed bio-diesel fuels represent CO2 savings of between 70-95 per cent. They are produced from biological residual and waste materials (such as cooking oil and sawdust), which are converted into hydrocarbons by a reaction with hydrogen. Paraffinic diesel fuels can already be found on the market as a pure fuel, but it is added to some blends of standard pump diesel to a 7% maximum, including Shell’s V-Power diesel. Volkswagen predicts that e-fuels will be available in the future, produced from regenerative sources using CO2 and electricity, meaning that the combustion engine still has a future relevance.


3D printing presents a futuristic dream – imagine, printing your own spare parts! Admittedly, that remains an ambition for the aftermarket for now, but it is worth noting
that some car enthusiasts are drawing and 3D printing small obsolete plastic parts for their aged models. Car manufacturers are also taking 3D printing seriously and Porsche has just launched an optional 3D-printed bodyform bucket seat as an optional extra factory fit for not just Boxster but also current Cayman and 911 models.

While it makes exciting headlines, Porsche admits that only parts of the cushion and backrest are produced by a 3D printer, including the side lattice structure. The cushion itself is available in three different rigidity grades and the entire seat is more than 8% lighter than conventional bucket seats. Porsche’s test driver, Lars Kern, says:

“Seats adapted to individual drivers have been available for a long time in professional motorsport. Now Porsche also offers a road- legal customisation with different rigidity grades as standard.”


Mercedes-Benz is no stranger to reconciling the seemingly impossible qualities of optimum ride quality and sharp handling. The fruits of four decades of research have resulted in ABC (Active Body Control) from 1999, which developed into 2013’s ROAD SURFACE SCAN (RSS) function, which prepares the suspension for road undulations before they reach the vehicle. Five years later, the company continued its technological advances, along with a typically Germanic obsession with shouty capital letters, when it combined AIRMATIC suspension and RSS with an optional 48V E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL function. At its inception, the company claimed that E-ACTIVE is the only system on the market

that can control spring and damping forces at each wheel individually, suppressing roll, pitch and lift movements. In the GLE application, air springs bear the vehicle’s weight and regulate the ride-height. Each wheel possesses a damper, within which is a pair of chambers, an adjustable damping valve and a hydraulic pressure reservoir. The damper is connected to a combined 48-volt motor/pump, which controls the hydraulic fluid flow to create a pressure differential within the damper. It is this that generates the active force.

A main ECU controls not only the motor/pump but also the air spring compressor, via the CAN Bus wiring. The functions include a rocking mode, for off-road use, by raising and lowering the suspension several times to alter the ground pressure on the tyres, should the car become stuck. Adjusting the suspension height on one corner only is also advantageous in an off-road situation, such as when stuck in a ditch, or when one suspension spring is compressed fully. In addition, the system allows to easier access to the boot, because it can lower the rear suspension by 40mm.

It appears, however, that few buyers have been convinced by the extra cost of E-ACTIVE and reports are circulating that it is being deleted as an option in certain markets. The system is not defunct and remains available on other Mercedes-Benz and Maybach models.



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