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How many computers in a typical car - 1990? 2000? Today?

I am designing a poster to highlight the number of computers that are in a typical car today. One portion of the poster has a technical diagram showing the location of some common computers (ECM, ABS, Airbags, etc). I’d also like to include a chart or quote about how the number of computers has taken off in recent years, but have had a hard time finding good information. I’m wondering if anyone here knows of a research report on this subject, or failing that, I’d be interested in a discussion of how many computers are in a typical car today vs. 10-20 years ago. A scientific study isn’t really needed for my purposes, just a good solid opinion based on your experience.

I think it depends on the car. The more options a car has, especially in the “infotainment” department, the more computers there will be.

Expensive “luxury” brands probably have more computers than less expensive brands.

Even a simple CD player could be counted as a computer.

I think you’ll be amazed at how many computers are in some modern cars. I think I’d like to see your project when you’re finished with it.

This should get you started:


And McP’s exactly right, according to the article current cars range from about 30 (simple) to 100 (luxury). The SAE web site might have more info, along with the IEEE web site.

Heck, it probably also depends on how you define computer. I mean, the USB cord that runs to my radio probably indicates a few “computers” along the way. There’s probably a chip that decodes the USB data, the sound mixer chip, a separate chip to display the screen data, etc. Each is a separate embedded single purpose computational device, even if they are all on a single board.

The last time I counted 24 I think it was on my Lincoln, a '96 model. That includes the PCM and various modules. (module being basically a mini-computer)

The car even has one for the electric radio antenna. No doubt a high end exotic has far more than that.

I think my 90 Dodge Colt only had one, but it didn’t even come with a radio, I had to put one in myself. No airbags either, had those annoying “automatic” shoulder belts.

For one more datapoint: The first car I’m aware of that had a computer was the 1978 Cadillac Seville which had a single processor.

I had a 1982 Honda Prelude that had one computer if you consider the electronic ignition module a computer. All the emissions controls and engine management were mechanical and vacuum driven.

I had a 1990 Toyota pick-up that had 3 electronic modules, an A/C control module, and emissions control module, and electronic ignition. Count the Integrated circuit in the voltage regulator, and it had 4. 2-bbl Carb, last model year for it.

My 2000 Ford Explorer has more modules than I can count. It has the ECM that controls the engine, a TCM that controls the transmission, a GEM for a lot of the luxury items, like door locks and courtesy lights, an information center that reads from the ECM to give me trip data, fuel mileage, fuel usage, systems, check, and Oil Life Monitor, an air bag module, anti-lock brake module, climate control module, and others I’m sure.

The 1967 Volkswagen was the first automobile that I recall having electronically controlled fuel injection. Bosch certainly was the pioneering force of the technology it seems.

Rod Knox is correct about the VW early fuel injection system. In the mid 70s other European car makers (Volvo, SAAB, etc) went to elec. controlled FI with a few Asian cars starting to adopt it. (Late 70s Datsun 280, etc)

As crude as they were compared to today’s systems they actually worked pretty well, all things considered.

You might find these interesting or useful:

Technology Review article on hacking auto computers reports 50 to 70 Electronic Control Units in a typical luxury car.

http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/25339/page1/

You should work through some of the citations

http://www.autosec.org/pubs/cars-oakland2010.pdf