Applying the Personal Computer Industry model to the Automobile Industry

The automobile industry is on the verge of rapidly moving from expensive vehicles powered by inefficient heat engines and complex mechanical transmissions to relatively inexpensive electric cars powered by fuel cells, Atkinson cycle engines, and diesel cycle engines. It may be too lat, but maybe not. (See article on Chinese electric automobile referenced below.)

There is an opportunity to create an automobile industry based upon a model like the PC model having a standard bus and components having standard electrical and physical interfaces. However, I fear that, if someone outside the automobile industry does not step in, it will continue in its wasteful pattern of the past 50 years, specifically, multiple, incompatible components that perform the same function but providing absolutely no advantage to consumers in exchange for their incompatibility.

Consider how well an industry standard has served the personal computer business. A standard operating system would serve the automobile industry in the same fashion. An industry standard configuration concentrates available capital on solving problems. It encourages innovation because automobile producers could become car assemblers, buying most of their components and assembling cars, as most computer manufacturers do today ? not building multiple sets of infrastructure to produce parts that function in exactly the same way yet are physically incompatible. It allows for lower barriers to market entry because a manufacture can buy components and assemble the product rather than having to invest immense capital to create an entire, new, automobile also having parts incompatible with all the other automobile manufacturers.

If all automobile manufacturers used one mechanical and electrical interface like the PC industry, then a parts manufacturer or inventor could manufacture to one standard, not a multitude of different standards for different automobile manufacturers, thereby saving immense capital investment and increasing the likelihood that an assembler would accept an innovation as has been the case with personal computers. The assembler companies would be much more receptive to new technologies because they have zero capital invested in current technologies.

Throughout the past century, electric systems and controlling software have replaced mechanical systems. Electronics and software have replaced mechanical components in telephones, watches, tape recorders, record players, ovens, electric power generation (fuel cell), typewriters, etc. The automobile industry is on the verge of its own electric revolution.

The current automotive industry structure is a vestige of a once competitive transportation market. The existing automotive industry is one where each manufacturer creates cars with functionally identical but non-substitutable parts. Many hundreds if not thousands of different oil filters, fuel filters, starter motors, fuel pumps, transmissions, etc. operate in precisely the same way but producing no advantage over one another. It would be a shame if an entire new automobile industry grew into the same wasteful pattern as the old.

Properly designed electric automobiles will consist primarily of computer software and hardware. Electric cars will have, essentially, only four moving parts in the drive train. Each wheel will be driven by a motor armature. The rest of the powertrain will be solid state electronics and components after legacy heat engines disappear.

The vehicle will be powered by a solid-state fuel cell equipped with a reformer that will allow use of any hydrocarbon fuel. An ultra-capacitor would be used for short-term power storage and release. Four electric drive motors would power the wheels. Finally, a computer and software will provide power systems management and vehicle electrical systems management.

Limiting consideration to vehicle propulsion, the main computer and software would manage power production and distribution in the vehicle. It would control fuel supply to the fuel cell, control regenerative braking, control each of the four drive motors (monitoring, for example, for a wheel over-speed condition ? compensated for steering wheel position in turns ? which would indicate a skidding tire), control power among power consuming and producing components, and maintain an appropriate charge level in the ultra-capacitor and battery systems. Additionally, the computer would monitor components and alert the driver to any failing or failed components. Computer monitoring of components would completely eliminate expensive mis-diagnosis of problems and the replacement of non-faulty parts that often happens with internal combustion engines.

This would be an ultra-clean, ultra-efficient, and a mechanically ultra-simple automobile. This is, I think, something this world sorely needs before we pollute ourselves into oblivion.


I think that I can speak for a number of forum members when I say that I cannot–and will not–read a lengthy post that is not separated by paragraph breaks.

If you re-post this question after making it user-friendly (to use a computer-related term), you are much more likely to get a good number of responses to whatever you are asking.

VDC, thanks for keeping your post short and paragraphed! My attention span is about that long.

Sorry but once I saw Windows operating systems for some cars I was scared, I have been 20 years in the IT business and have job security due to windows instability.

I mean if you have windows 98 you are basically dead in the water, if your 98 car was dead in the water you and I would be pissed.

Most of the technologies you envision are already in vehicles and vehicle production. Some of the technologies are not “ready for prime time”, yet.
Commonality of design and production, or, identical vehicles, by different manufactures? There is too much diversity for that.
The vehicle computers, already, perform diagnostics of the vehicle’s systems. The thing which is outdated is the general mechanic’s knowledge of those…like about 15 years outdated. I can see the need for more informed mechanics, better troubleshooting techniques, and better shop practices.
“Greener” technologies are welcome; but, they will develop faults; so, that we need “greener”, more current, mechanics. That’s the challenge.

As Lincoln said, “I apologize for not having time to make my letter shorter”…brevity is priceless!

I have almost 50 years experience with computers. Wrote my first program in 1960.

There’s plenty about my cars that I’m unhappy about – especially the general failure to standardize form for parts that are needed on every car. There’s really no reason that, for example, a single generic windshield wiper motor shouldn’t fit any car made since 1947. Maybe with the help of a generic adapter if there was a good reason to change the function/size/whatever once or twice in sixty years.

That said, my cars work a hell of a lot better than my computers. Windows is a shambles. IMHO, anyone condemned to work on it deserves combat pay. Unix isn’t any better, but at least it is priced at what it is worth – Free. As for the internet. This website has better forum software than most. But that 2 in VtCodger isn’t there because I’m a Jr or something. It’s there because the software ate my first two attempts at registration.

Let’s don’t apply the personal computer model to cars, we have enough problems with cars already.

While I only briefly skimmed that uninterrupted tome (and now I’m legally blind) I will only say that is just what we need; millions of cars being powered by Windows.
Blue screens of death, Send Error Reports, froxen screens, etc, etc, all requiring a bunch of cars in traffic to be “rebooted” at inopportune times.

I built and ran my own computers long before the first commercial PC was ever built. The PC is hardly a suitable poster child for compatibility across manufacturers in terms of either hardware or software. In fact, it was the achilles heel of the PC for many, many years.

Apple took the opposite approach and forced a closed hardware achitecture so that compatibility and ease of integration were of higher importance. This caused higher prices but made for great stability and ease of integration for the consumer.

Consumers put up with the hardware integration issues because the price was right and there was little they could do about alternatives. Microsoft worked themselves quite well into a monopoly and were ruthless against any competition. They were also able to release, for general use, software packages that were far from ready for prime time. They could do that and get away with it because they were monopolizing the industry.

I could go on for hours but the basic premise that the computer model is something to be emulated in the auto industry is laughable, if you have sufficient perspective on the growth pains it went through.

You’ve got to be joking !
The PC industry is the worst nerd infested business in the world .

Forget the futuristic Hi-Tech stuff for the time being. The computer industry has become a throw away industry due to the rapid development and obsolescense. In the car busiess, things go slower, and the varied use of cars and their long life dictates other development paths.

With cars, the maker needs to give long warranties, in years and mileage, for the goverment madated emission ansd safety items. So, because of this and their high cost, cars cannot be throw away items. But cars are becoming more and more modular, i.e. individual components are no longer repaired, they are changed out. This is a function mostly of the high labor costs and the lack of “repairability” of many components.

When Jack Nasser was president of Ford he tried to make Ford engines, complete with emision controls, fuel sytsems, etc., as change-out items every 100,000 miles or so.

That would have been very profitable for Ford, but owners who drive a lot with easy miles would have been furious. The idea bombed, but the theory was OK.

In the future, cars will become more and more modular; Nissan changes out the CVT transmissions as soon as something goes wrong with them. Most mechanics no longer overhaul engines; it’s cheaper to install a rebuilt. It’s getting close to that way with normal automatic transmissions.

In India and other low wage countries, each automoitive component is still rebuilt or refurblished with loving care; its creates lots of jobs.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Sincerely, FoDaddy (A+,Net+,MSCE,MCITP,MCSA)