Technology forges ahead relentlessly and the 4×4 industry has a reputation of being a proving ground for experimentation and advancements. Over the past few years there have been quantum leaps in trucks and Jeeps-”sci-fi-ish innovations unimaginable and unforeseen by most in the industry. The winners are consumers. The collective headspace has come up with amazing technologies to make vehicles safer, lighter, more fuel efficient and far cooler looking.
At the recent, International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago,it took 44 hours for a car to emerge from a 3D printer. Phoenix-based Local Models’ Strati is primarily comprised of thermoplastic and carbon fiber and parts added include a transmission, motor, tires and steering column. Trucks and Jeep parts coming from a 3D printer can’t be far behind.
Here’s a look at a few of the advancements that have made inroads in the offroad realm.
LEDs Take a Leap Light Years Ahead
The technology of LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lighting for 4x4s has leapt ahead by light years with more efficient sets and decreasing amperage draws. Don’t let the space age word diode in its name fool you -“ LEDs have been around for over half a century. They generate light by electroluminescence within a semiconductor material. The evolutionary leap of LEDs that has most impacted offroaders is the relatively recent development of white LEDs.
Factor in their durability and vibration resistance, lifespan and cooler running temperatures, and it’s easy to see why truck and Jeep drivers favor them. Because sources are tubular linear or bulbous, the design possibilities are in flux and seemingly endless. LED fixtures can be conveniently mounted and this has spurred a revolution in light bars.
Hella has been in business for over 115 years and boasts 70 worldwide locations producing automotive products. The company is on the verge of introducing their new compact Rallye 4000 LED series. Mounted at bumper height, they’re intended to compliment lights mounted at roof height.
“The rapid expansion and growth of the LED light bar has been unparalleled,” said Jim Daly, Westline Sales, a representative for Hella. “Hella HID lights used to rule the Baja 1000 in the early 2000s, but now LEDs are coming on strong. Hella’s innovation has been focusing the LED light backwards, capturing it in a reflector, and dispersing forward so our lights are more efficient and provide light for longer distances.”
Daly believes that the general offroad public hasn’t recognized Hella that much for LED, but now that they’re changing shapes, adding ovals and bars, people are starting to take notice. “When you turn them on and use them you understand why,” he said. “The temperature, the lessened fatigue and the closeness to daylight color make them an amazing option.”
“Most all of our current efforts are involved with developing better LED products that will provide the best ‘usable’ light that can be achieved from the LED source,”said Ron Pryczynski, National Sales Manager at KC HiLiTES, Inc.Pryczynskibelieves we’re going to see more and more OE LED applications throughout many different industries.
“We now have the ability to create Street Legal LED lights that we didn’t even know were possible ten years ago,” he said. The company’s Gravity Series LEDs use advanced reflector optics to shape the beam however they want to.
Although KC HiLiTES’ halogen lights still outsell everything else in their product offering, their new LED products are rapidly rising toward the top of sales. “From a consumer standpoint, it seems that LEDs are the most asked about, talked about type of lighting there is currently,” said Pryczynski.
TFT Display Instead of LCD Dashboards
Whether it’s called the Information Age or the Digital Age, one of the hallmarks is that we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for data. A TFT display in a 4×4 is a case of being in the right place at the right time. The futuristic technology has been described as “infotainment for cars” and “an iPad on your dash,” and offers an integrated system capable of displaying, monitoring and controlling everything from driver information to air conditioning.
TFT LCDs (Thin-Film-Transistor Liquid-Crystal Displays) feature better image quality and screen sizes and ranges of shapes have gradually increased. They can be built-in systems or stand-alone accessories added to vehicles.
“The cost of the displays has come down, which allows a lot more content to be displayed to the driver that we did not have a way to communicate before,” said Chrysler Group LLC. One example of this is displaying the wheel articulation in a 4×4 vehicle. The technology’s reach extends to climate control, audio systems and eco-driving displays, and Chrysler believes the next frontier in TFT technology is further integration with 4×4 vehicle capabilities.
Projections are for there to be 70 million TFT-LCD display shipments by 2016. 2015 Grand Cherokees and Ram 3500s will feature impressive TFT-LCD displays with high resolution interfaces.
We Have Seen the Future and It’s-¦ Glued Together
The half-ton diesel race rages on and Ford has stepped up its small diesel engine development in an attempt to hit higher federally mandated fuel economy targets. Another less publicized aspect of Ford’s 2015 F-150 pickups is its aluminum body that employs far more adhesives than preceding models. Bonding with glue is nothing new and began to catch on in the 1970s, but the extent of adhesives used on the number one selling vehicle in America today is an eye-opener.
Gluing as an alternative to welding, bolting and screwing is shaving off weight and drivers are seeing the results in fuel efficiency. Flattening 4×4 bodies cuts down on wind resistance that also increases to better fuel efficiency. Another advantage is that adhesives distribute loads more effectively than rivets, and for offroaders who encounter serious jolts, adhesives spread out the force.
Safety is another area where adhesives excel and crash tests reveal that in many instances glued vehicles outperform those with welded designs. Findings are that adhesives cushion better in accidents, resisting impact energy and protecting passengers.
The Shape of Things to Come
Predicting technological advancements in the automotive industry has always been tricky. The development of self-driving cars and the ability to capture footage of another vehicle damaging yours so it doesn’t get away undetected sound like promising scenarios. Popular Mechanics even forecasts that isoprene, which is a key ingredient in rubber used in tires, will be harvested from growing bacteria.
How will these innovations impact the offroad industry? Many of these technologies cut into the enthusiast’s maverick sense of self-reliance and DIY ethic. It’s a safe bet that if things become too easy or luxurious there will be push back by hardcore offroaders.
As long as there are trees and cars with hoods up under them, enthusiasts will find ways to tweak and modify their rides. And their mods will always reflect the tech and the times. The future is unwritten and un-driven, but if there’s anything that offroading teaches us it’s that it will be fun getting there.