Energy efficiency took center stage at the recent North American International Auto Show, as manufacturers
proved they could find a multitude of ways to boost fuel economy.
inches of snow fell on the streets outside Cobo Hall in Detroit, automakers
inside rolled out green technologies aimed at halting global warming. The new
technologies, ranging from electric vehicles to smart phone apps to power-efficient
audio systems, are helping them come closer to the government-mandated 35.5-mpg
corporate average fuel economy (CAFÃ‰) needed by 2016.
One way to
meet the CAFÃ‰ mandates is to roll out new hybrid vehicles and electric cars,
and the auto show was rife with such introductions. Ford announced its Focus
Electric, to be out in dealerships later this year, along with its C-Max hybrid
and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, both slated for 2012. Toyota, meanwhile, showed off its forthcoming
Prius Plug-In, as well as its all-electric RAV4, which will hits the streets
sometime in 2012. And French manufacturer Venturi Automobiles unveiled the
all-electric Venturi America, a 300-hp "high-voltage buggy," said to modeled
after American dune buggies.
pressure to boost efficiency has reached the point where automakers are looking
to suppliers more than ever, in search of help. Suppliers at the show talked
about ongoing efforts with automakers on products ranging from starter motors
to audio speakers. "They gave us the opportunity and said, â€˜Maximize everything
you can,'" said Robert Barnicoat, director of global business development for Harman/Becker Automotive Systems
his company's dealings with Toyota Motor Corp
in the design of audio systems.
New cars, of course, grabbed the headlines at the show.
Ford's Focus Electric made the biggest splash, coming as it did on the heels of
the Chevy Volt and Nissan
, which took center stage last year. The Focus Electric, with 100 miles
of all-electric range, appears to be positioned to go as a head-to-head
competitor against the Leaf. Toyota,
meanwhile, was betting on the Volt-busting Prius Plug-In, which will offer an
all-electric range of about 13 miles and an overall driving range of more than
will be able to go to work and do errands in the all-electric mode," said Toyota spokeswoman Jana
Hartline. "Then on the weekend, they'll burn gasoline and take it out for a
While new vehicles
grabbed the headlines, however, automotive suppliers showed they're playing an
equally important role, especially in conventional gas-burning vehicles. Harman
described how it teamed with Toyota
on the incorporation of its GreenEdge audio technology. Although audio
components would have once been unthinkable as a solution to fuel efficiency
dilemmas, manufacturers such as Toyota
are now looking for every imaginable edge, and GreenEdge supplied one.
GreenEdge in its 2011 Prius V, a hybrid gasoline-electric mid-size that's known
for its greenness. The new technology helped maintain the desired image with a
multitude of energy efficiency advantages, including a weight savings of 37 percent,
power improvement of 41 percent, packaging reduction of 5 percent and an
overall energy efficiency boost of more than 60 percent.
advantages are a godsend for companies like Toyota, which are always searching
for ways to boost product quality while cutting energy use. Conventional audio
speakers, which can be bulky, are a prime place to start that search, largely
because big speakers can cause packaging difficulties in already-tight spaces,
while adding weight at the same time.
always a challenge for us," said Barnicoat of Harman. "If we can help the
manufacturer reduce the weight in the car, then we've achieved our goal."
Corp. said it's ready to help its customers by building a new breed of electric
starter motors for the coming adoption of start/stop technology. Denso
engineers said they're talking to a number of automakers, with some planning on
incorporating the technology as early as 2012.
is coming," said Robert Martin, director of engine electrical engineering at Denso International America
start/stop, we can boost fuel economy by three to five percent, and that's what
the manufacturers want."
which involves stopping a car's engine at traffic lights as a means of saving
fuel, is being viewed as a key technology in the North American automotive
market, where drivers annually burn about 3 billion gallons of gas while
sitting idly in traffic.
solution is a beefed-up starter motor that's connected to the car's battery by
a switch. The motor meets the performance requirements of start/stop operation,
offering about 10 times more starts than conventional starter motors. Martin said
that conventional starter motors are built for a lifetime of about 35,000
starts, whereas start/stop motors must offer about 350,000 starts.
technology is expected to offer an average fuel economy boost of about 3-5
percent -- as much as 7 percent in big cars and less in smaller vehicles.
products will start appearing in North America
in 2012," Martin said. "We're talking to all the OE's (original equipment
manufacturers) and we're expecting big growth."
Bit By Bit
At the show, Ford Motor Co.
also said it's looking for green solutions outside the realm of powertrains.
The giant automaker showed off a suite of information technologies designed to
make it easier for EV enthusiasts to get the best out of their new vehicles. New
dashboard displays will provide drivers with a multitude of ways to check their
remaining charge. A feature called MyFord Touch will display an icon showing
the battery state of charge, and will work with GPS to determine whether
drivers can make it to their remaining destinations. Similarly, MyFord Mobile
will provide charge information to smart phone screens and computer displays,
and will even employ a Microsoft app designed to help owners re-charge their
vehicles in the middle of the night, when electricity rates are lower. MyFord
Mobile will even include an app that memorizes a person's driving habits
(classifying them in categories ranging from "zippy" to "Zen") and then use
that information to make range calculations. It will also alert drivers to the
presence of the nearest charging stations.
see with electric vehicle customers is a need for more planning," said Dave
Finnegan, marketing manager for Ford electric vehicles.
Automakers at the show made it clear that
their efforts are more than greenwash. Nissan said that it ultimately plans to
sell 500,000 Nissan Leafs per year. At the same time, Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota are ratcheting up
their efforts, especially with regard to vehicles that use both electricity and
gasoline. All of the companies hope to woo new customers into green vehicles.
"Electrification as a whole has
been a huge ongoing effort for us," Finnegan said. "We want to make driving and
living with electric vehicles as seamless as possible."