The trend toward fuel efficiency isn't going away in 2012, or at any time in the foreseeable future. Because automakers are already on the hook to push their Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) to 35.5mpg by 2016, and 54.5mpg by 2025, they're going to be working hard on any feature that can eliminate even the smallest sip of gasoline. The most effective way to accomplish that is through the introduction of electric cars and hybrids of various types.
The innovation won't stop there, however. In 2012, we'll see the industry pushing the limits on a number of different fronts. Autonomous driving technologies will become more prominent. EV battery sizes will increase. Multicore processors will make a bigger move into the vehicle. And as that happens, engineers will fret about the electronic complexity that's taking over the automobile.
Click the image below to start a slideshow of the top 5 automotive trends to watch for in 2012.
The automotive world's migration to hybrid vehicles won't slow down in 2012. Ford Motor Co. will roll out its C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, while Toyota unveils its Prius PHV. But the show-stealer could be the "micro-hybrid," or "start-stop" car. The micro-hybrid, which has been quietly waiting in the wings for years, will make its biggest move yet in the coming year. Ford, Chevy, Buick, Kia, and others will roll out the technology in 2012, joining a handful of models from Fiat, Volvo, and Alfa Romeo that already have it. At its most rudimentary level, start-stop will enable vehicles to turn off their engines while waiting at stop lights, stop signs, or in heavy traffic. Soon, however, it will go beyond that level, enabling engines to shut down while a vehicle is coasting, in some cases as fast as 75mph. Experts say that the technology will be employed on every new car by 2025, making it impossible for even the most dedicated gasoline burners to avoid it. Bosch's start-stop starters, shown, can reduce a vehicle's fuel consumption by 5 percent.
(Source: Robert Bosch LLC)
To keep up with our coverage of all things EV, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Chevy Volt across America to interview engineers.
The other issue is that there now really is a market hole for a stripped down car which is just a car. (I.e., not an electronics platform that happens to have an engine, transmission, and gas tank thrown in for the heck of it.) However, I suspect that such a vehicle would not pass regulatory muster and so wouldn't be street legal. What a paradox.
It is always a fight between what is mandated by those making decisions based on emotions and those making decisions based on marketing and customer demand. Of course, marketing does tend to prmote those choices that deliver the most profit. On the other side, it makes little sense to build products that customers don't want, and will not buy.
There is always a fight between safety, performance, emissions, and economy. We do know that safety does not sell, it never did, except for Volvos. Nobody would buy airbags if they were an extra cost option, nobody bought them when they were. The same for the stability control, the next option being forced on us.
So the result will be very interesting, since the vehicles that got the better mileage were not as big sellers as the larger vehicles that did not get such good mileage.
The best choice would be for our lawmakers to find a way to make the more fuel efficient vehicles more attractive, while not placing penalties on those who buy the big vehicles. One simple change would be to make the yearly license plate fee dependant on vehicle weight, like it was back prior to 1970, instead of taxing them bythe original purchase price, which is how it has been done in Michigan for many years now. That would be a simple change, not needing any technical breakthroughs at all.
Nice wrap-up, Chuck. While EVs are getting plenty of coverage, the multicore processors look like they may deliver promising results. We may find that a very smart traditional engine delivers more significant environmental advances than EVs that are essentially powered by coal burning electrical plants.
I will be watching (and waiting) with great interest to see the implementation of these technologies. I just can't, however, see automakers reaching the 55 mpg mark without an outrageous price tag - not for several years, anyway. For the standard to truly be effective, these autos need to be available to everyone, sooner rather than later.
I didn't have time to wade through 9+ pages of comments on the blog you referenced, but I don't recall ever seeing anyone look at it this way: the automakers who agreed to meet the 54+MPG target MAY have considered this as a "supply vs. demand" opportunity! Think about it: the giovernment has very little power to repeal the laws of economics, despite their continuing efforts to do so. IF the demand for larger vehicles (e.g. full-size pickup trucks, together with large SUVs) is relatively inelastic (as it would be for those whose egos/incomes allow them to exercise that preference, combined with the large numbers of businesses and individuals who NEED those vehicles to earn their living), then if meeting the target means severely restricting production volume of those vehicles, then there is a HUGE opportunity for greatly-enhanced PROFIT margins. Especially given the recent travails oof the industry, that may indeed represent the (maybe temporary) salvation of the industry! Just a thought.....
The big question with the technologies aimed at gas and hybrid vehicles is whether the U.S. auto industry can reach the holy grail of a 55 MPG CAFE (fleet with 54.5 mpg). It's possible in theory with current technology but the big stumbling block is whether it can be done in a cost-effective manner (both on the production end and creating cars consumers are willing to buy). Tough questions which will get illuminated a little more to some extent in 2012. For more, see "How Do We Engineer Autos for 54.5 MPG?"
Automakers are on the prowl for lighter weight materials to make vehicles less heavy and more fuel efficient, and Nanosteel is one of the companies hoping to take advantage of this opportunity with their lightweight automotive steel of the same name.
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