The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) contends that as fuel efficiency rises to very high levels, the benefit to the customer shrinks. At $5 per gallon, for example, a 15,000-mile-a-year driver can save $3,750 on gasoline annually by jumping from 10mpg to 20mpg. But by going from 40mpg to 50mpg, the savings drop to only $375 annually, the curve shows. As consumers reach those limits, CAR says they are likely to keep their current vehicles longer, a phenomenon it refers to as the "Cuban-ization" of the American auto market. (Source: Center for Automotive Research)
I think I have to side with the consumer advocates on this one. Granted, it will take some extra engineering and innovation muscle, but much of this technology should have been (and has been) in the works for years given that it is no surprise that the mandate was coming. As for the added cost, what about the addition of bluetooth, entertainment centers, GPS, automated driving systems--all of those highly complex embedded systems and electronics jack up the cost of the vehicle and consumers buck up and pay extra for the technology. I just see this as a standard that pushes progresss. What's so bad about that?
Nice to hear the voices of both consumer advocates and engineers, Chuck. As for the costs to gain fuel efficiency, are some of the costs one-time costs for innovation and altered design? I would think that many of the improvements would not continue to add cost with each individual car after a certain pay-back period.
Most of the upfront costs -- such as product development, engineering, tools and production equipment -- will diminish, Rob. Parts and labor will remain, however. It's particularly problematic in big ticket items, such as the dual powertrains in hybrid vehicles. Two powertrains will always cost more than one.
You raise a lot of good points, Beth, particularly with regard to the added cost of entertainment centers. The big problem, though, is achieving that last 10 mpg. That's where most of the cost lies. It's worth it to take a hard look at the accompanying graph. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but a consumer saves ten times more in fuel costs by going from 10 to 20 mpg, than by going from 40 to 50 mpg. Going from 40 to 50 pg, a 15,000-mile-a-year driver paying $5 a gallon saves only $375 annually. The point is, we reach a mathematical limit as we go farther out on the curve. Unfortunately, most of the additional vehicle cost is in that last 10 mpg, the experts say.
That makes sense, Chuck. But with the limited sales of hybrids and EVs, most of the CAFE gains will come from traditional engines. Wouldn't most of the gains on those engines involve upfront innovation rather than the incremental costs of parts? Or, is there something intrinsically more expensive about the parts that would be needed for a high-efficiency vehicle?
The problem Beth, is that almost always, politicians strongly (and blindly) push measures like this one far over what is Feasible, Reasonable and Convenient.
Engineering is the art of carefully balancing many simultaneous factors in order to provide a solution. Engineering is almost always a compromise, the better, most well balanced one is often the most effective. Blindly or deceptively trying to elevate a single aspect above all on a complex system, is going to hurt several other aspects, remember the "Law of unintended consequences".
Lets all remember what happens when politicians invade the engineering and science fields, in a thriumphalist outburst of green (pun intended) proclaim determine whatever they feel is to be achieved, regardless of costs or worse.
An example: the absolutely stupid, myopic and counterproductive ban on incandescent lamps, procaiming that the CFL (Compact fluorescent Lamp) IS the way to go... Forgetting that CFL's contain sizable quantities of mercury (one CFL broken inside a bedroom SHOULD require a decontamination costing thousands of dollars, unless you don't mind your loved ones breathing mercury vapors for a long time!), have an absolutely worst Power Factor (less than 0.52 for the better ones), use a wide variety of non-reclaimable materials in their manufacture, have a terrible Colour Rendering Index (CRI) - typically 60 - 70, and among other disadvantages, cannot be used inside sealed or poorly ventilated fixtures, require several minutes to reach their full brightness, are damaged if subjected to frequent switching cycles... and not surprisingly, use a LOT of energy in its manufacture, and quite a bit more in their PROPER recycling.
But the brilliant politician gods have determined that the incandescent bulb is devil, and they had to kill them! (for an exhaustive, balanced and reasonable tehchnical discussion on the incandescent ban and CFL's, I suggest reading the essay written by a truly ingelligent human being, that happens to be a very good engineer from Australia: http://sound.westhost.com/articles/incandescent.htm#cchar
Another example: The serious problem of tin whiskers growth in electronic solders without any lead content, because of the insufficiently thought out "green" measure pushed by the European monkey politicians (RoHS, Directive 2002/95/EC), which is another example of twisted, tricky and stupid selective thinking: lead in electronic solders is banned, but only 2% of total lead use goes into the solders, most go to the car battery industry, and in a glaring show of hypocrisy, Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film PV modules in photovoltaic panels are explicitly allowed by RoHS to contain cadmium, even though cadmium is restricted in all other electronics. The solar panel exemption was in the original 2003 RoHS regulation and it was further extended on May 27, 2011.
So to me it is clear that when a politician promotes a green measure, BUT imposes insufficiently revised goals, humanity ends up harmed (albeit a few selected companies could benefit).
I'm just imagining the safety, price, durability, repairability and freedom from problems that new vehicles will have to sacrifice in order to meet that kind of goal. On the other side, as an engineer, I would be more than happy to see true advancements, perhaps to a more realistic, less delusive-dream number.
I see your point. It's that that last 10mpg isn't worth spending the extra dollars that might get you the next model capable of 54.5mpg when you have an older vehicle that comes pretty close. I suppose that's a valid concern on the part of the automotive makers.
Beth Stackpole writes: "I just see this as a standard that pushes progresss. What's so bad about that?"
While a lot of us Geeks enjoy the leaps and bounds advances that electronics and computers make, while following Moore's Law, unfortunately the same doubling in performance every 18 months doesn't happen with mechanical systems which have hard bounds in thermal and mechanical efficiency. Otto Cycle ICE efficiency is bounded at roughly 58% for most cars, less friction, heat, pumping, and other losses that are well optimized in 35% efficient gasoline engines today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_efficiency
ICE's and automotive designs are subject to significant diminishing returns effects, after decades of successive optimization of nearly every part of the design for fuel economy. Every step past the last 20 years gets exponetially more expensive for smaller and smaller gains ... there simply isn't a free lunch here, as long as the emission requirements reduce efficiency.
Besides hybrids, the best we can do with ICE drive train efficiency is to switch to clean turbo diesels, and pickup about a 30% efficiency gain from the higher effective compression ratio, over Otto gas engines. VW Diesel Jetta's already are in the right range, without an expensive heavy electric hybrid. Unfortunately, there are a lot of environmentalists that hate diesels very strongly. And there is an NO3 emissions issue, that the EPA will have to relax.
Hybrids and EV's have a very difficult time with efficiency at slow speeds, especially serial hybrids and pure EV's, where electric motor efficiency runs below 50% at slow speeds ... like stop and go driving, and there is very poor kenetic energy capture for regenerative braking. Hybrids like the Prius have very small battery packs, trying to safe weight ... and can only capture a tiny amount of energy -- about 600watt-hours. Electric Motor efficiency decreases with increased torque requirements, so operation on hills is significantly less efficient.
As you increase battery capacity, so increases wieght, and a larger share of the battery energy is consumed to accelerate the battery weight. Kind of the same problem as launching rockets in space, where a small increase in payload, requires a significantly larger increase in propellent to leave the ground.
And both Hybrids and EV's dont' save the fuel needed for climate control and lights in both hot and cold weather, that becomes expensive during stop and go driving in commuter environments that affect more than half the population, at least half of each year.
Downsizing to unsafe smaller mini and micro cars remains the most likely choice driven by costs, that consumers will be forced to accepts ... and with that a lot of deaths.
Some environmentalists belive these regulations will be "Saving Oil for future generations", the real outcome is that we spend a very high cost to reduce US oil consumptions, while the rest of the world consumes the cheap oil that was "saved in Amercia" and use those lower costs to continue to undercut American living and manufacturing costs, sending even more jobs overseas.
So, my question is: is reducing US oil consumption, really worth increasing US automotive deaths, and leaving the US economy even further less competitive in global markets?
You're right, Rob. The engine enhancements -- features such as active fuel management and variable valve timing -- don't require much in the way of hardware. For the most part, it's a matter of electronics, software and a solenoid or two. Reducing engine displacemnt, however, is slightly different. The key to reducing engine size lies in the use of turbochargers. Turbochargers mean additional hardware and some extra cost, although some of that is offset by the use of smaller engines.
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