A drop-in AC system in the roof could provide better air distribution and a wind-in-your-hair sensation even in closed-top trucks.
The problem of routing conditioned air through ducts in a vehicle's cabin could soon be solved, thanks to an innovative Ford patent discovered by CarBuzz at the US Patent and Trademark Office. According to this new design, the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) hardware could soon be relocated to a self-contained unit, mounted in a housing around the vehicle's sunroof.
Due to the increasing complexity of modern cars, along with new packaging requirements dictated by the large-scale switch to electric power, a rethink of the packaging of secondary- and comfort features has become a necessity. With this in mind, Ford's engineers have now devised a way of getting the HVAC system away from the firewall area, opting to integrate all the components into a single roof-mounted unit instead. Ford's patent uses an F-150 Lightning to showcase the technology, which makes sense given the truck's battery pack and body-on-frame design and showcases the simplicity of this new invention.
This new design comprises a continuous tunnel running around the perimeter of the sunroof, which contains the air-con compressor and heat exchangers, air heater units, blower motors, filters, and ducts in one neat package. As is the modern norm, exterior air will be introduced through intake ducts leading to the HVAC unit, which can be set to ingest fresh- or recirculated air as needed, and cabin air filtration is naturally also included.
Outlet vents into the vehicle's interior sprout directly from secondary ducting inside the unit, into which fresh or recirculated air is routed from the HVAC hardware in the normal fashion. The vents are arranged all around the HVAC unit, giving a more even temperature distribution. Separate heat exchangers located near the outlet vents can allow for multi-zone climate control without cramming it all behind the dashboard.
This may seem like innovation just for the sake of innovation at first glance because it won't really change the basic functioning of the climate control system. However, there are numerous advantages to moving the HVAC hardware away from the front compartment and firewall area.
The main improvement lies in a lot of free space being liberated behind the dashboard. This vacant space may allow for improved crash safety due to enlarged crush structures, or it could be used to cram other gadgets into the now-vacant space or perhaps make the frunk of the F-150 Lightning even bigger.
Compressing the HVAC hardware in a contained space will also improve the system's efficiency as it will lead to shorter plumbing, reducing the possibility of extraneous heat- or cold sources affecting either the heat exchanger or air distribution channel temperatures.
It must be noted that this design will only really be suitable for trucks, vans, and SUVs with sunroofs, though, as regular passenger cars simply won't have the expendable headroom needed to accommodate the hardware. Moving all the HVAC hardware to the roof will simply consume too much of the already-limited headroom in a sedan or hatchback, but it makes sense for future Fords, which are unlikely to feature either of these body styles. For those body styles and electric sports cars, Ferrari has developed an AC system that used the space within the chassis' box frame that may be applicable.
There's another potential downside for the vehicle's driving dynamics too, because more weight at the roof level of a vehicle will affect its center of gravity. This is unlikely to be an issue for EVs with skateboard platforms, however, because the low-mounted batteries will offset this disadvantage and render it largely academic.
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