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Can a 'green' audio system help you save gas?

The Bose Energy Efficient sound system in the 2013 Nissan Leaf weighs less and consumes less power.

By Douglas Newcomb Feb 18, 2013 6:14AM

Harman/Kardon GreenEdge audio system. Photo by Harman,"Green" marketing may have jumped the shark years ago. But as long as environmental consciousness and energy efficiency help sell products, we’ll continue to see everything from household cleaning products to cars jumping on the green bandwagon.

Of course, it makes a lot of sense for automakers to plug the fuel efficiency of their cars: It’s become a major selling point, and gas-sippers have been flying off dealer lots since last year. Eco-marketing efforts such as soy-based seat foam and coconut-fiber cupholders come off as a bit of a stretch. Now car stereos are getting into the act.

The latest example is the Bose Energy Efficiency Series sound system on the 2013 Nissan Leaf. Both companies say it “delivers powerful, high-quality audio, but with a significantly smaller and lighter footprint than conventional systems and at about half the electrical current.” While neither Bose nor Nissan makes any claims about the fuel-saving benefits of the Energy Efficiency Series audio system, they are implied.

Can a sound system really help contribute to fuel savings? Or is this just another example of green marketing hype?

Although Bose says this is the “first ever” green sound system for the Leaf, it’s not the first in the company’s Energy Efficiency Series. The series made its U.S. debut in 2010 as an optional sound system for the Chevy Volt that the company claims is 30 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter and uses 50 percent less energy than comparable Bose systems.

As in the Volt, the Bose system that’s available as an option for the 2013 Leaf uses seven lightweight speakers, including a 4.5-inch subwoofer in a 6.2-liter enclosure in the Leaf's rear cargo area. The speakers are powered by an “energy-efficient amplifier” that Bose says consumes less power and runs cooler than conventional amps. This also allows the amplifier to be smaller and lighter since it doesn't need the large, metal cooling fins to dissipate heat that many car-audio amps require.

Bose isn’t the only audio supplier pushing eco-friendly car tunes. Harman’s GreenEdge systems are available in vehicles ranging from the Toyota Prius to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, under both the Harman Kardon and JBL brands. Toyota says that the “lower current draw from the audio system reduces the load on the vehicle's alternator, which can help extend mileage capabilities or even extend battery-only ‘EV’ range for hybrids.” But can drawing less current and weighing a few ounces less really help an audio system make a big difference in a terms of mpg?

As for the amplifier using less power to help save fuel, this claim could have some validity, but likely only for hybrids like the Prius and plug-in electric vehicles like the Leaf, all of which try to maximize battery power. A slight reduction of current from the alternator probably won’t make a difference in terms of fuel economy in a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

Weight savings definitely make a difference in any car, but only through significant reductions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, for every 100 pounds removed from a vehicle, the fuel economy increases by 1 to 2 percent. Based on a gallon of regular gasoline costing, on average, about $3.71, those 100 pounds represent a savings of between 4 and 7 cents for every gallon. Of course, the weight savings between a regular audio system and a green one is measured in ounces. So this weight difference probably won’t translate into any appreciable gas savings.

Taken together with other weight savings that automakers have initiated -- everything from plastic gas tanks to lightweight steel -- perhaps the tiny amount that a green audio system saves could help make a cumulative difference in raising fuel economy. But beyond removing your golf clubs from the trunk, there are better, and maybe healthier, ways to shave weight from your car.

According to Consumer Reports, a 10 percent increase in obese drivers from 1999 to 2005 contributed to a reduction in average fuel economy for U.S. cars by as much as 2.5 percent. So for the average American driver, losing weight from their waistline could have more impact on fuel economy that shedding a few ounces from their car stereo system.

Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.

Feb 23, 2013 7:10PM
Yes it can.  BUT we need to be realistic in how much gas it can save.  It isn't going to turn a 20 mpg truck into a 40 mpg fuel sipper.  At best, in a non-hybrid or electric car, it will add maybe 5 miles to the tank...  So we are talking maybe a tenth or two mpg gain.
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