Since the power-steering pump on most cars today runs constantly, pumping fluid all the time, it wastes horsepower. This wasted power translates into wasted fuel.
You can expect to see several innovations that will improve fuel economy. One of the coolest ideas on the drawing board is the "steer-by-wire" or "drive-by-wire" system. These systems would completely eliminate the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering, replacing it with a purely electronic control system. Essentially, the steering wheel would work like the one you can buy for your home computer to play games. It would contain sensors that tell the car what the driver is doing with the wheel, and have some motors in it to provide the driver with feedback on what the car is doing. The output of these sensors would be used to control a motorized steering system. This would free up space in the engine compartment by eliminating the steering shaft. It would also reduce vibration inside the car.
General Motors has introduced a concept car, the Hy-wire, that features this type of driving system. One of the most exciting things about the drive-by-wire system in the GM Hy-wire is that you can fine-tune vehicle handling without changing anything in the car's mechanical components -- all it takes to adjust the steering is some new computer software. In future drive-by-wire vehicles, you will most likely be able to configure the controls exactly to your liking by pressing a few buttons, just like you might adjust the seat position in a car today. It would also be possible in this sort of system to store distinct control preferences for each driver in the family.
In the past fifty years, car steering systems haven't changed much. But in the next decade, we'll see advances in car steering that will result in more efficient cars and a more comfortable ride.
For more information on steering systems and related topics, check out the links on the next page.