Fuel economy has become one of the most important considerations for OEMs in recent years, driven by rising fuel prices and more challenging legislation on emissions and fuel economy. Major technological advances, such as plug-in electric vehicles, tend to grab most of the attention around reducing fuel use and carbon emissions. But often less visible, incremental changes can have equally large effects, and in shorter timeframes.
Stop-start technology is one of the systems being used to meet targets, and Pike Research will shortly release a new report on this topic. Downsizing the engine volume along with forced induction – either turbocharging or supercharging – is another approach being used to increase efficiency. At higher speeds, better aerodynamic design can also pay dividends.
OEMs have also been investing for some time in lowering the vehicle’s mass. In an average car, reducing the weight by 220 pounds translates to a fuel economy improvement of about 3%. Tires with lower rolling resistance and installing electric power assist steering also have small but measurable benefits.
Incremental improvements to existing technology have been made over many years, with little notice. For example, a vehicle with a 1.6-liter diesel engine at Ford averaged 185 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer (g/km) in 1998. By 2012 that number has been reduced to 88 g/km. Other manufacturers have accomplished similar improvements as they introduce features such as common rail fuel injection and stop-start technology. Over the same period, a gasoline vehicle with a 1.6-L engine showed a reduction from 194 g/km to 139 g/km. Replacing the naturally aspirated 1.6-L engine with its 1.0-L EcoBoost engine that delivers the same power rating, Ford has been able to reduce the CO2 emission to 109 g/km in 2012.
It is also important to note that stop-start may never become a standard feature on all vehicles. On small city vehicles the extra cost, bulk, and weight may not be offset by the fuel savings. But on larger vehicles with powerful internal combustion engines, stop-start is destined to become standard worldwide. The drive for this will come from OEMs doing all they can to meet emissions regulations, and also from consumers and fleet buyers who recognize a feature that pays for itself.
Most OEMs will need to devote some resources to educating drivers about stop-start technology, though, first to get them to choose it when specifying a new car, and second to get the most out of it when driving. One of the reasons for the slow launch of stop-start technology in North America is that the official EPA
test-drive cycle does not include much stationary time and so the benefits of stop-start do not show up in the comparison figures that are mandatory on a new car sticker.
While stop-start can save some fuel by not allowing the engine to idle when the vehicle is stationary, another approach is to tackle the issue of congestion and solutions that keep traffic moving. Telematics and Smart Cities offer some new ways to tackle this problem, by helping drivers to find more efficient routes.
When considering the bigger picture, it’s important to recognize that high-volume, less noticeable technologies can have a much bigger effect on the environment than cost-intensive advanced concepts, even if the incremental benefit is smaller.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, Smart Transportation Practice
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