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Technologies to improve car fuel economy – meeting CAFE 2016

New stricter fuel economy CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards has been set for 2016. How would automobile makers achieve this and what would be the cost?

The new CAFE standards indicate that an average (harmonic mean to be precise) of 42 mpg (18km/l) for the car fleet must be achieved and 26 mpg for light trucks by 2016. Note however this is not based on the new EPA test standards so you could add roughly 10% to current EPA numbers. Currently the requirement is 27.5 and 23.5 mpg and current industry combined average is 25.3 mpg. This means the combined vehicle fleet must gradually become 40% more fuel efficient in 2016. Note since it’s not a pure average but a mean average carmakers cannot get away by adding just 1 super efficient model and not looking at their existing less efficient models. Over the last 30 years the fuel efficiency only improved 15% so 40% would be quite a change.

Note that there’s a potential concession to exclude foreign carmakers with US sales less than 400K vehicles annually. However I don’t think this will give US companies necessarily a disadvantage since European regulations will be much more stringent and I don’t see why they wouldn’t offer competing fuel efficient vehicles in the US. In Europe the average CO2 emmissions would be required to be 98g/km by 2020 (-40%).

Overview fuel saving Technologies:

Technology Cost per vehicle MPG Gain Cost per 1% gain in MPG
Low rolling-resistance tires $6 1 – 2% $3
Low-friction lubricants $3 0.5% $6
Aggressive shift logic $38 1 – 2% $19
Cylinder deactivation $203-$229 4.5 – 6% $38
Reduced engine friction $21 / cylinder 1 – 3% $42
6-speed automatic transmission $161-$262 3 – 5% $52
Engine accessory improvement $124-$166 1 – 2% $83
Electric power steering $118-$197 1.5 – 2% $99
Dual-clutch ? 7 – 9%  
Smaller displacement Engine+turbocharging $120-$810 5 – 7.5%
Ford: up to 20%
$24 –
$108 (turbocharging)
Start/Stop systems $1800 – $2000 5 – 10% $200
Gasoline direct injection $122 – $525 1-2% $263
Diesel $3000- $8000 10 – 50% est $50 – $100
Hybrid system $2000- $4500 25 – 55% est $80 – $110

 

Examples:

Model Technology Cost
MSRP*
Fuel economy without / with
city / highway / combined
% improvement
Acura MDX ‘10
5 vs 6 speed AT
6 speed AT TBD 15 /  20 / 17
16 /  21 / 18
+7% / +5%
+6%
         
Audi A5 2.0 TFSI
manual (Europe)
Start/Stop + recovery Standard 26 / 46 / 36 mpg
29 / 45 / 37 mpg
+8% / –2%
+3%
Mazda 3 series
(Japan)
Start/stop Mazda system ? +10-15% city +10% est.
         
Audi A5 2.0 TFSI vs 3.2 TFSI Automatic Engine displacement -$4000 17 / 26 / 20 mpg
21 / 27 / 23 mpg
+ 24% / +4%
+17%
Toyota Highlander
V4 vs V6
Engine displacement -$3000 18 / 24 / ? mpg
20 / 27 / ? mpg
+11% /  +13%
+10% est.
Toyota Venza
V4 vs V6 FWD
Engine displacement -$1825 19 / 26 / 22 mpg
21 / 29 / 24 mpg
+11% / +12%
+9%
         
Audi Q7 3.0 TDI vs 3.6 FSI Quattro Diesel +$4000 14 / 20 / 16 mpg
17 / 25 / 20 mpg
+21% / +25%
+25%
BWM 335d vs 335i
(US)
Diesel +$4000*** 17 / 26 / 20 mpg
23 / 36 / 27 mpg
+35% / +38%
+35%
VW Jetta Diesel +$5000 20 / 29 / 24 mpg
29 / 40 / 33 mpg
+45% / +38%
+38%
         
Ford Fusion Hybrid +$8000** 22 / 31 / 25 mpg
41 / 36 / 39 mpg
+86% / +16%
+56%
Honda Civic Hybrid Hybrid +$3500***
(vs EX)
25 / 36 / 29 mpg
40 / 45 / 42 mpg
+60% / +25%
+45%
Lexus RX ‘10
FWD
Hybrid +$3000*** 18 / 25 / 21 mpg
32 / 28 / 30 mpg
+ 78% / +12%
+43%
Toyota Camry Hybrid +$3500*** 21 / 31 / 25 mpg
33 / 33 / 34 mpg
+ 57% / +6%
+36%
Toyota Highlander Hybrid (AWD) +$4700*** 17 / 23 / 19 mpg
27 / 25 / 26 mpg
+ 59% / +9%
+37%

* Federal and state incentives not deducted
** Compared with base models, haven’t checked base equipment but at first glance similar
*** estimated with similar equipment

Conclusion

The biggest FE improvement and cheapest for consumers would be smaller engines. Saves money (if not turbocharged) and improves fuel economy. Also I’m sure manufacturers will offer more smaller car choices.

The biggest fuel economy improvements would come from diesel and hybrids (and don’t rule out combination of both in the future).

Some myth debunking regarding diesel vs hybrid: from environmental point of view hybrids do better than diesels: no (cancerous) rust particles and in city higher MPG & lower CO2. UPDATE: See this fuel economy comparison video which includes 1 diesel and couple of hybrids: Fuel sipper smackdown 2. The technologies though don’t exclude one another and diesel+hybrid combination is being looked into (downside is 2x cost hit at this point).

One claim against hybrids is that hybrid battery recycling is a problem. Both Honda and Toyota will take and pay for returned batteries and recycle almost all of it (hybrid batteries typically lasts lifetime of the car). But definitely something that should always be looked into.

Diesels are still not popular in the US due to price, fuel cost and image. Although I’m sure we’ll see a few more diesels from European manufacturers I’d expect a bigger increase in hybrid model selection. The cost premium for hybrids should also go a bit further down by 2016.

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