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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Someone (September the 11)
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