Cars

Automakers at MIT; A best engines list; Newest Acura: TLX

FUTURISTIC HEAD GEAR: A trio of automated Ford Fusion hybrids drive together along a closed-circuit track on the road toward an increasingly automated future.
FUTURISTIC HEAD GEAR: A trio of automated Ford Fusion hybrids drive together along a closed-circuit track on the road toward an increasingly automated future.FORD

The automotive industry continues to be drawn to collaborate with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on future systems involving the autonomous (self-driving) car and the human-machine interface (HMI).

Ford last month announced a joint venture with both MIT and Stanford. MIT will focus on ways to predict the actions of pedestrians and other vehicles. Stanford’s teams will explore how a vehicle might use sensors to peek around obstructions.

The programs are part of Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility, which envisions a future of autonomous functionality and advanced technologies after 2025.

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MIT also is teaming with Honda, Subaru, and Jaguar-Land Rover as well as automotive supplier DENSO and Michigan-based Touchstone Evaluations for a study of the continuing challenge of driver distraction.

They’ve founded a consortium, Advanced Human Factors Evaluator for Automotive Distraction (AHEAD), to advance HMI methodology that was developed before present technologies such as voice interface, touch screens, and multi-function controllers.

Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at MIT’s AgeLab and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, has been instrumental in developing systems such as cross-traffic alert and self-parking technology that have become commonplace in the industry.

Reimer’s work with the AgeLab has combined physiological measures with visual attention and performance testing. “One goal is to provide a more complete picture of the interacting demands of modern HMI,” he says.

“Establishing a common understanding of human performance during in-vehicle tasks that can distract drivers from the primary task of operating the vehicle safely is an important industry goal,” says Steven Feit, chief engineer of Infotainment development for Honda.

Acura: TL+TSX=TLX

Mathematicians won’t be able to follow that formula, but Acura dealers will. Acura last month unveiled a prototype of its new mid-size sedan, a vehicle that will replace both the TL and TSX.

The TL once was Acura’s top seller but the MDX and RDX crossovers (SUVs if you prefer) now have surpassed it. The TSX, a slighter smaller sedan, made its acronym bones when pundits noted it combined the Spanish words for aunt (tia) and sex.

“The TLX will do on the car side what the RDX and MDX have done on the truck side,” says John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda.

Acura plans to offer the TLX with either a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder (185 horsepower) or 3.5-liter V-6 (278 HP). Both will have standard front-wheel-drive with all-wheel steering; the V-6 will have optional all-wheel-drive.

10 Best Engines

This is the 20th year that WardsAuto, an industry data and analysis center, has published its 10 Best Engines list. With the automotive industry scrambling on all fronts to improve fuel efficiency, this year’s list is of note for having:

• Three diesels (BMW 3-liter, Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, and Chevy Cruze 2-liter diesel).

• A three-cylinder turbo (Ford Fiesta 1-liter EcoBoost).

• An 83-kW electric (Fiat 500e).

To be eligible, a new or improved engine must be on sale in a production vehicle during the first quarter of 2014 in a vehicle with a maximum base price of $60,000. Forty-four engines were considered this year.

Only two engines returned from 2013’s list, the 3.5-liter Honda V-6 and Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6.

GM’s 460-horsepower small-block V-8 (6.2 liters) from the Stingray makes the list, remarkable for the small-block engine that first appeared in 1955.

Porsche returns to the list after an 11-year hiatus with a 2.7-liter boxer engine (275 HP) that’s in the Cayman two-seat coupe.

Rounding out the list is Volkswagen’s 1.8-liter turbocharged four from the Jetta.

Engines were rated on power, torque, technology, observed fuel economy, relative competitiveness, and noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) characteristics.

New President

Congratulations to Craig Fitzgerald, who was elected president of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) on Feb. 1.

Fitzgerald is editorial director of IMN, managing a team of writers who develop content for 1,900 automotive dealers. He’s also an automotive writer whose work appears in the Globe, Concord Journal, bangshift.com, and AAA Southern New England. Previously, he was editor of Hemmings Motor Sports.

He was elected during the business meeting portion of NEMPA’s annual balloting for New England Winter Car of the Year.

Results of that balloting will be announced later this month. The Jeep Grand Cherokee has won the Winter Car of the Year Award for an unprecedented three straight years.

Fitzgerald succeeds Keith Griffin of West Hartford, Connecticut, a long-time freelance auto writer whose work appears around the country, including in the Globe.

Griffin, who writes for about.com and is in beta testing for indepthauto.com, also is founder of the Internet Car and Truck of the Year Awards.

Bulletproof?

In automotive jargon, bulletproof means a vehicle or part with legendary toughness and reliability.

Toyota is taking that to another step by assuring consumers that its coming fuel cell technology will be durable.

The company, as part of its testing, tried firing small-caliber bullets at the carbon fiber hydrogen tanks on its prototype FCV (fuel cell vehicle). They bounced off.

Interested to see what it would take to penetrate the material, they went up the line to 50-caliber rounds, which did dent and finally penetrate the outer tank.

“Just one of a thousand different tests,” says Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota’s US operations. “We want to be absolutely sure of the system’s integrity.”

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