DETROIT (Dec. 4, 2013) — Gingerly, the auto industry is stepping up the push for car features that work by electronic impulses instead of metal pumps, pinions and cylinders.
The motivation is clear: Vehicle technologies lumped together as "X-by-wire" — brake-by-wire, steer-by-wire, drive-by-wire — promise to make cars lighter, safer, easier to build and more fuel efficient.
But selling that point has been tough.
While the technology has been advancing for at least 20 years, its progress has been impeded by consumers fearful of runaway cars and luxury owners persnickety about unfamiliar driving sensations. A recent lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp. successfully used a "ghost in the machine" argument to turn a jury against Toyota's use of throttle-by-wire. The argument questions whether safeguards and regulations can protect a driver from the occurrence of software glitches.
Those concerns have restrained the industry's zeal for X-by-wire.
Powerful global industry factors, such as the mandate for better fuel economy and the competition for emerging markets, are stimulating new interest by auto makers in X-by-wire systems. Not least among them is the new industry race for self-driving vehicles, which proponents say is impossible without X-by-wire.