Tech that saves you money
Forget electric cars and high-tech hybrids. Here are the technologies that will save you big at the pump today.
Electric and hybrid vehicles are not the only answer to the question of fuel-efficiency. Ford's new turbocharged, direct injection 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder performs as well many V8s, while using considerably less gasoline.
Take a walk through the wealthy streets of California's Silicon Valley — say, downtown Mountain View or Palo Alto — and you just might be able to convince yourself that electric cars are finally taking over. A Chevrolet Volt is charging outside a Starbucks, a Nissan LEAF glides silently down Main Street, and a Tesla Roadster is pulling up to a trendy lunch place with some millionaire tech mogul at the wheel.
But as we all know, Silicon Valley is not representative of the country: The vast majority of Americans still drive gas-powered vehicles. Conventional hybrids such as the Toyota Prius account for only single-digit market share. Electric vehicles are not even on most people's radar, despite the hype over advanced battery-powered cars. The reality is that most American consumers won't see EVs with any frequency for many, many years, let alone own one.
Still, fuel economy is a primary concern of most new-car buyers today. And government-mandated fuel-efficiency standards are about to get considerably more stringent. So how will automakers satisfy consumer demand and government regulations if EVs are still too expensive and rare to make much of a difference?
Improvements in weight, aerodynamics and power-management technologies will be the heroes in any scenario of building "greener," more fuel-efficient cars. "All of these levers will be required to meet new, stricter standards," says Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. Let's take a closer look at five key technologies that will boost mileage, cut greenhouse gases and save you money at the pump.
When hybrids first hit the roads, many people were surprised to hear their car engines go silent when they came to a stop. It turns out that shutting down the motor at a standstill saves fuel and cuts emissions. Start-stop technology doesn't just make sense for hybrids, however. Johnson Controls, a leader in start-stop systems, is investing millions of dollars in the batteries and engine controllers that make start-stop systems possible in all vehicles. Clean-technology consulting firm Pike Research projects that nearly 40 million start-stop systems will be sold in the United States by 2020.
Companies such as Ford have been using start-stop technology on their European models for some time, but until now only a few manufacturers, such as BMW and Porsche, have shown interest in applying the feature to their U.S. models. Ford, however, will introduce start-stop on its American models in 2012 and says it can boost fuel efficiency in city driving by 4 to 10 percent.
Making cars lighter can mean squeezing more miles from a gallon of fuel, and by using stronger steel, automakers can use less steel when building their vehicles. The Energy Department recently announced a $750 million loan to Severstal North America, a Michigan-based steel-maker, to develop lighter metal so that a car can be 10 percent more efficient without being any less safe. The department expects Severstal's steel to save nearly 30 million gallons of gasoline per year.
Advanced plastics, lighter metals such as magnesium and aluminum, and even carbon fiber are also potential replacements, though they're not cheap. Ford is experimenting with a process that injects microscopic bubbles into plastics, making them lighter while maintaining their strength.
David Champion, senior director of the Auto Test Division at Consumer Reports, predicts cars will lose about 500 pounds over the next five to 10 years. He points to the Hyundai Sonata, which shed nearly 400 pounds between 2006 and 2010 while maintaining comparable performance and horsepower.
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The "Missing Link" in the battle for higher MPG is driver education. Every day on the highway I get passed by people driving 50% faster than the speed limit and end up catching them at the first stoplight or speed zone with my cruise control set to the speed limit. In the city I see people racing from stoplight to stoplight, switching lanes in a panic to get to the front of the pack, only to be stuck by a red light and get caught by everyone who is driving sensibly. I seem to get there just as fast as them in my '95 Toyota that averages about 39 MPG around town.
Cars have gotten far too heavy, but the problem with making them lighter now is all the heavy commercial equipment and huge SUVs that will still be on the road. Safety cage or no, a 2000 pound car stands no chance against a full size pickup.
Turbocharging has always been a great idea, and I think Direct Injection will be eventually. For now, DI generates a lot of deposits in the engine due to fuel not washing over the intake valves, so recirculated oil vapor and gasses just build up and turn rock hard on the intake valves.
There's always a learning curve with new and advanced technologies. If we can do these things without it costing the consumer an arm and a leg either through initial purchase or repair costs, then we've got nothing to lose.
All this high tech that is supposed to save us money also provides automakers a justification to tack on additional costs, not to mention the complexity of these new high tech features that diminish the long term reliability and add to the service costs down the road when they fail.
It doesn't work like that. First there are plenty of places in the U.S. (you may not live there) where rear drive either won't work in the winter or is very difficult to say the least. Front wheel drive with good snow tires WILL work in 99% of those situations for on the street commuting, but there are other applications where 4 wheel drive is necessary.
As for electric cars, that electricity comes from somewhere so your eco footprint may be far worse than a conventional car depending on how that electricity was generated. Because of this, electric cars are not the panacea that many tree huggers think they are.
As far as alternative energy's go, Hydrogen is the best hope that I can see, but I doubt we will see any real inroads there for 15-20 years but more efficient internal combustion engines that are being developed now will mate with Hydrogen just fine.
Electric cars do not have a 200 mile range, or even 100 that you claim. There are plug in Hybrids (Chevy Volt) that after the electric power has been exhausted in their battery's (real world about 30 miles) a 4 cylinder engine kicks on to generate more electricity, this is what gives the range it has.
As for Tesla, It is so expensive because it has so many battery's this is not feasible for most people. Real world also the range drops significantly. If driven like a sports car, (which it proports to be) your range will drop to about 30 miles. And real life situations driving like a regular car (not trying to hypermil) you might get 80 miles than you need to charge it for 12 hours, not going to get to Grandma's house very fast that way, better leave on Halloween to get there for Thanksgiving.
Don't believe me? check out Top Gear's segment on the Tesla
Finally, please realize every one and every family is different. Family with 4 kids has different transportation needs than a single person so there vehicle of choice will be different. please stop trying to put all pegs in the same hole.