Born in Tokyo in 1975, Tanaka studied material science at university. Living and studying in a rural area in those days made him wake up to the pleasure of driving. He aspired to be an automotive engineer, but learned that some of his older schoolmates joined major businesses and were assigned jobs unrelated to what they had majored in at university. This made him wish to get a job that was directly related to cars no matter what. He carried out his wish and became a Car Graphic editorial reporter. In 2000, he was appointed to found UCG, a magazine specialized in used imported cars, as Editor in Chief. In 2003, he returned to Car Graphic and has served as Editor in Chief since 2010. As he dreamed when he was a student, he now indulges in the pleasure of driving every day.
The monthly automotive magazine Car Graphic celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In addition to presenting new vehicle models, it has the editorial policy of focusing on stringently neutral critiques and useful information collected overseas, while at the same time filling its pages with attractive photos. We interviewed Seiji Tanaka, Editor in Chief at this major Japanese car magazine, and asked him how he sees modern automotive electronics.
Electronics Produced Real Effects in Cars in the Late 1980s
Cars first benefited from electronics around 1980, as the anti-lock braking system (ABS) was introduced to prevent wheels from being locked during braking. Later, the traction control system (TCS) allowed the vehicle to respond to the driver's gas pedal command only when tires had good road contact. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) , which stabilizes the vehicle position in bends to prevent skidding, was first spread in Europe and the United States. Since December 2010, it has been a legal obligation to include this technology in all cars distributed in Japan. As these examples suggest, electronic control has been spread in cars since the late 1980s.
Progress in Micro-Computing Integration Led to Centralized Control
If you control automotive functions separately, you need a CPU for each control system. Scores of microcomputers were once installed in one vehicle. These were then further integrated to reduce cost, cabling, and the number of components. In this integration trend, components were required to achieve safety levels just as high as those required for vehicle systems. And as these requirements were fulfilled, even more electronics were introduced in cars. Today, you can use the navigation screen to control the air-conditioner as well as the running gear. Networking technology allows the driver to simply look at the screen on the center console to understand the vehicle's current operating conditions. Technologies premiered in concept cars in the beginning of this century are now available in series production models with even higher safety and reliability.
Improvement and Spread of Suppliers' Technology
Just like automakers, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers contribute greatly to the increasing use of electronics. A good example is the system that detects the risk of collision and activates automatic braking. Once an automaker introduced it, it spread to other manufacturers in a flash. This is because the system's supplier supplied the technology it had established firmly. You might think this increases the number of cars that are similar to each other, but you are wrong. Each automaker has a philosophy of its own. And its philosophy is reflected in the aspects of the brand image such as design, drive feel, and sportiness, as well as development engineers' priorities.
Safety Systems Ensure Motoring Pleasure
Power is one of the greatest pleasures you get from driving a car. Modern cars deliver levels of horsepower that would have belonged to the realm of science fiction just a few decades ago. In the past, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association had voluntary safety regulations that limited peak engine output to 280 horsepower. But today you can drive cars with 300, or even over 500 horsepower. This has been made possible by the advancement of safety technology. The advanced technology allows drivers to feel completely safe even when they are behind the wheels of vehicles delivering such mind-blowing levels of power. Just think of two types of cars: One permits tire slippage until it comes to the car's physical limits. The other prevents slippage immediately at the very first sign. It's easy to stop tires from slipping at the very initial stage, but this detracts from driving pleasure. It's more fun if you can handle the gas pedal and steering wheel even when tires are slipping. The first type of technology challenges the physical limit of the car, as it were. It requires more time and labor to study it, and it is much more difficult to achieve than to stop tires from slipping at the slightest sign. But manufacturers that emphasize unique driving dynamics have such technology. And even the same manufacturer offers different dynamics depending on the model. Such differences reflect the development engineers' philosophy.
Future Progress in Autonomous Driving
An issue we need to focus on from this point on is how much progress autonomous driving will make. It is said to have already been established in theoretical terms, but it has yet to achieve sufficient levels of reliability. At present, people believe the driver should have the final responsibility, but that is because they have no notion of autonomous driving. From this point on, we will need to change our traditional concepts of social systems, such as insurance, for example. Some people will surely ask if autonomous driving will really make for safer mobility. But one thing is certain – without electronics, automotive technology wouldn't have made such great progress. Without a doubt, electronics will open up a new future for cars in both terms of dynamics and safety.