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Going Green: The CAFE Challenge
The key question is: How will the industry implement the right combinations of technologies to increase vehicle efficiency in the most cost-effective manner?
The truth is, we're already off to a good start. There are technologies already available, or coming soon, that can help meet 35 mpg if made available in greater volumes. Hybrids are proliferating and will make a major contribution if they reach the projected 50 percent market share (from two percent now). At Ricardo we've worked on 18 different hybrid programs and developed the world's most efficient diesel hybrid.
Clean diesel engines offer 30 percent better fuel economy than conventional gasoline engines, but advanced gasoline engines are closing the gap and they cost less to make. We believe gas engine efficiencies can improve 20 to 30 percent with advanced technologies such as direct injection, downsizing, boosting, and cam phasing.
Fuel-efficient transmissions offer additional potential - dual-clutch transmissions can offer a three to six percent fuel economy improvement. Plus, there's also exciting work being done to get improved efficiency out of ethanol fuel. We're working on two such programs for the Department of Energy right now.
Also, it's important to remember that green technology is not only about powertrain. Some very good innovations are being developed in aerodynamics, accessory drives, lithium-ion batteries, controls, and mass reduction.
Ultimately, meeting CAFE will not just be about headline-catching individual technologies. It's about optimizing the entire vehicle and all its systems while minimizing energy losses. Just consider the fact that up to 75 percent of the energy in each gallon of fuel never reaches the wheels.
No single technology - whether it's in powertrain, controls and electronics, transmissions, or any other single system - will provide the fuel economy remedy. That's why we've launched a new offering that we call TVFE, - Total Vehicle Fuel Economy - that will quickly identify, validate, and implement the most cost-effective, total-vehicle strategies for improved fuel economy. TVFE yields the kind of comprehensive, unbiased test data that leads to sound decision-making.
The other side of the fuel economy equation is cost. One automaker estimates that meeting 35 mpg could cost an average of $6,000 per vehicle. With an anticipated $411 fuel saving per year, that's a 15 year payback. So far, consumers have not been willing to absorb that added cost. Automakers will have to identify the right technologies that have the maximum benefits for the least amount of cost, otherwise going green could easily put them into the red.
Whatever the final costs are, new technologies will bring benefits in addition to increased fuel economy. These will include reduced dependence on imported oil, reduced total consumption of gasoline, and a shift to alternative fuels, all of which will contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Going green is going to be about balance - balancing incremental improvements with the breakthrough technology, performance with efficiency, consumer demands with government regulation, and cost with benefits.
This is the most exciting and challenging time in the last 100 years. We are entering an era where making the right technology decisions will not only be critical to business success but will also have a dramatic impact on the quality of life and the future of our planet.
In other words, being green is about more than making green. And what could be more exciting than that?
Dean Harlow is president of Ricardo, Inc., a leading independent engineering firm specializing in fuel economy and vehicle efficiency.
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