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5 Most Important Automotive Tech Milestones of the Last 25 Years

5 Most Important Automotive Tech Milestones of the Last 25 Years


Dual Clutch Transmission, 2003

Dual-clutch transmission (DCT) (sometimes referred to as a twin-clutch transmission) is a type of multi-speed vehicle transmission system, that uses two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets. The design is often similar to two separate manual transmissions with their respective clutches contained within one housing, and working as one unit. In car and truck applications, the DCT functions as an automatic transmission, requiring no driver input to change gears.

The first DCT to reach production was the Easidrive automatic transmission introduced on the 1961 Hillman Minx mid-size car. This was followed by various eastern European tractors through the 1970s (using manual operation via a single clutch pedal), then the Porsche 962 C racing car in 1985. The first DCT of the modern era was used in the 2003 Volkswagen Golf R32. Since the late 2000s, DCTs have become increasingly widespread, and have supplanted hydraulic automatic transmissions in various models of cars.

Basically, advanced dual clutch transmissions (DCT) offer the benefits of a traditional automatic transmission with none of the drawbacks. On a six-speed DCT gearbox, for instance, one clutch shifts the odd gears (1, 3 and 5) and the other one handles even gears (2, 4 and 6). The twin clutches allow the driver to shift gears seamlessly with incredible speed. The result is something as easy to use as an automatic but with quicker shifts than a manual.




Advanced Turbocharging, 2008

Turbos have been used on production cars since the 1960s. These compressors, driven by the vehicle's exhaust gasses, force more air into the cylinders. When combined with more fuel, that results in more power. Turbos can make a small engine perform like a much larger one. Both GM and Ford introduced small turbocharged engines in the 2008-2009 timeframe that signaled the tech had matured enough to install in the company's least-expensive cars. Now automakers could use smaller, more efficient turbo engines and retain (or even exceed) the power levels of larger engines. Today, nearly every manufacturer has downsized its engines to smaller turbocharged ones with a boost in performance and fuel economy.

What changed? The design of the turbos themselves was refined. Parts were made smaller, lighter, and more responsive. Twin-scroll turbos and twin-turbo setups allow engines to make power and torque all across the rev range with very little of the lag that old-style turbo engines were known for. Modern turbos are constructed of stronger materials than the old ones. The popularization of direct fuel injection also contributed to turbo performance, because this form of fuel delivery helps cools the intake stream, which allows for higher compression ratios—and more reliable power.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System, 2000

A tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is an electronic system designed to monitor the air pressure inside the pneumatic tires on various types of vehicles. A TPMS reports real-time tire-pressure information to the driver of the vehicle, either via a gauge, a pictogram display, or a simple low-pressure warning light. TPMS can be divided into two different types – direct (d-TPMS) and indirect (i-TPMS). TPMS are provided both at an OEM (factory) level as well as an aftermarket solution. The goal of a TPMS is avoiding traffic accidents, poor fuel economy, and increased tire wear due to under-inflated tires through early recognition of a hazardous state of the tires.

Indirect TPMS uses the anti-lock braking system and wheel speed sensors to notice if tires are spinning faster than they should, indicating reduced air pressure. A light illuminates when the tire is 25 percent below a pressure threshold. Direct TPMS is far more accurate and uses pressure sensors inside each wheel to measure tire pressure and send it to your vehicle's information center.

The first TPMS was available on the Porsche 959 supercar in the late 1980s. But it took new laws, sparked by outrage over the Firestone/Ford Explorer rollovers of the 1990s, for the systems to become widely adopted. The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000 ensured that every passenger vehicle would have these systems standard by 2008.


Bluetooth Integration, 1998

The significance of Bluetooth's wireless technology to the automobile industry wasn't completely apparent when it launched in the late 1990s. But by 2001 the company had its first in-car kit for talking on your phone hands-free. Today the technology is in just about every car and installed on just about every cell phone. It's so ubiquitous we rarely think about the fact that we didn't used to have it. But to legally talk on your phone in the car in at least 14 states, a hands-free connection must be established between the phone and the car. And Bluetooth is the way to make that happen. 


Automotive Parts



Stability Control, 1995

Electronic stability control (ESC), which helps correct a skid if your car begins to slide, was the final step in a technical progression that began with anti-lock brakes in the 1970s and 1980s. As computing power increased and sensors improved (and got cheaper), automakers could apply the brakes to individual wheels to reduce wheel slip and increase traction. Thus, traction control was born. What stability control added was a yaw sensor to determine whether a car was sliding. If ESC detected a slide, the system would apply the brakes on individual wheels to help control the skid and straighten the car's path. Some ESC systems control the throttle to manage power going to the wheels. Mercedes-Benz and BMW were the first to bring stability control to the luxury market in mid 1990s. Later in the decade it began to trickle into American cars, most notably with the introduction of "Stabilitrak" to the 1997 Cadillac lineup. The technology improved vehicle safety so much; it's been required on all passenger vehicles since 2012.




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