It was over eight years ago, in this section of this newspaper, that I made the prediction that “European cars, because of their smaller sizes and lighter weight have utilized electric steering sooner than across the Atlantic, but I expect electric power steering will replace traditional hydraulic power steering units within the next five to seven model years.”  It now seems that I was right when I looked into my crystal ball.  (Unfortunately, it does not give out lottery numbers!)

Since hydraulically activated power steering has been around since 1951 when the Chrysler Crown Imperial was the first car offered with the new concept, we should have got it right by now.  And we have got it right, to the point that we have developed another system which uses less energy than hydraulic pumps, and in today’s energy conscious environment, less energy used is savings at the petrol pump.

Today’s systems use electronics and electrics and has dispensed totally with the hydraulics.  This was first seen in the Honda NSX sports car and Honda again introduced the system on the S2000 sports car.  Smaller, lighter electric units are also used on Honda’s Hybrid Insight sedan (petrol saving, of course).

However, Honda was not the lone pioneer here, as Saturn used electric power steering on the Vue SUV and the Ion sedan.  GM’s 2004 Malibu used Delphi’s new E*STEER unit.  Dephi’s system was also used in the 2000 Fiat Punto and Volkswagen’s 2001 Lupo 3L TDI.  Other OEM vendors of electric power steering systems are Visteon with EPAS used in the MGF and ZF Freidrichshafen AG with ZF Servolectric.

Auto engineers know there are many advantages with electric/electronic systems in automobiles, and one significant savings lies where electrical and electronic components actually replace conventional mechanical and electromechanical components.  Such is the case with electric power assisted steering systems, steer-by-wire, and active steering systems, including electro-hydraulic power steering, magnetic power steering, intelligent steering systems, active rear-steer systems, four-wheel steering systems, steer-by-wire, and multi-axle steering systems.  This is a complex area of engineering that covers active, passive, and semi-active suspension systems, electromagnetics, damper suspension, digital suspension control, and vibration and handling control systems.

Whilst the driver has not become obsolete (yet), driving-by-wire is certainly making huge inroads into safer driving dynamics.  It has been a long drive since the Chrysler Crown Imperial, but our reduction in pure mechanical controls overseen by the driver, to the situation of the driver’s physical control overseen by electronics is an excellent example of the application of modern technology.