The average sedan has a mile of insulated wire linking its electrical gadgets, and if you tore apart a Ford, a Chevy and a Dodge you might find a hundred different types of connecting plugs.
Engineers at the Big Three automakers have concluded that that kind of complexity makes little sense, costs too much and creates too many chances for things to go wrong.On Wednesday, they announced a joint effort to simplify by developing electrical connectors that share designs from car to car and maker to maker.
"Our goal is to standardize automotive connectors, much as households and computer (manufacturers) have done," said Chuck Hurton, manager of power generation and wiring for General Motors Corp. "If your kitchen were as complex an environment (as a car) . . . you might need five adapters and a specially marked outlet just to plug in the toaster."
Hurton heads the committee that will oversee the Electrical Wiring Component Application Partnership, the latest in a growing list of joint technology ventures by GM, Ford and Chrysler Corp. under the umbrella of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, known as USCAR.
By 2009, the wiring consortium hopes to develop standards for vehicle electrical parts that would trim the number of connector designs to 10 or fewer from more than 100 today.
That would make electrical systems cheaper, easier to put together, less likely to fail and easier to fix, the engineers said. Dealers and repair shops would have less inventory to manage. The improvements also might help the Big Three compete with the Japanese.
"They seem to have more commonality among their connector systems than we do," said Frank Povilaitis, manager of Chrysler's electrical systems department.
GM, Ford and Chrysler initially will spend $750,000 a year on the connector project, each assigning two full-time engineers to work at a development center in Dearborn.
Japanese and other non-domestic automakers aren't part of USCAR, so their resources won't be part of the pool that pursues the new technology.
That's a view not universally shared.
"We think it would be best for the industry as a whole (for USCAR) to seek input from other manufacturers," said Frederick Standish, a Nissan spokesman who listened to the news conference announcing the connector consortium.