By Marshall Tulley
If you’re trying to improve your budget, protect the environment, or simply stop wasting so much money on gasoline, fuel efficiency is hugely important. After all, driving a massive, gas-guzzling vehicle gets really expensive really fast. 20 miles to the gallon might not seem like a big deal, but when you have to constantly drop $100 to fill up your tank, it can get pretty old.
In the past, fuel-efficient cars were only for those who either had a lot of money or who didn’t care about overall performance. However, that’s quickly changing. With numerous innovations in automotive technology, vehicles are becoming more fuel-efficient and more affordable.
What innovations are driving this change? Here are 9.
Innovation #1: Stop Idling
In years past, having your engine shut off at an intersection was cause for pounding the steering wheel in frustration, apologizing to the blaring cars behind you, and trying to get your car restarted. Now, having your engine “stop” at an intersection is a sign that you’re driving a fuel efficient car.
Start/stop technology, which causes the engine to stop burning gas when it idles, has long been one of the central ways that hybrid cars have been made fuel efficient. When you put your foot on the brake and bring your car to a stop, the engine quits running. When you take your foot off the brake, the engine starts up again.
In recent years, however, start/stop technology is being incorporated into vehicles that run strictly on gasoline. In fact, a startup in San Francisco called Voyomotive has designed a device that can retroactively bring start/stop tech to old vehicles. It plugs directly into a port under the dashboard and connects to the fusebox. When the brake is fully depressed, the engine shuts down. When the brake is released, the engine fires up again.
Innovation #2: Interactive Car Pedals
You may love punching the pedal to floor when the light turns green, but it’s killing your fuel efficiency. In addition to pedal punching, things like going up a hill too fast can also significantly raise the amount of fuel you’re burning.
A German company named Bosch thinks it can solve these problems by creating pedals that alert drivers to fuel burning behaviors. These pedals provide feedback to drivers by vibrating or even pushing back lightly when they’re burning too much gas, and the company claims that these types of alerts work much better than those little lights that show up on the dashboard.
Innovation #3: The Death Of Side Mirrors
Side mirrors definitely don’t help your fuel efficiency. Even though they’ve been around for more than 100 years, they create extra drag, which in turn reduces the miles per gallon your vehicle gets.
So what’s the alternative? Small cameras that show you exactly what’s beside and behind your car. The display would be on your dashboard, meaning you won’t have to turn around either, which is a safety enhancement. Some auto manufacturers say these cameras are also safer than side mirrors because they eliminate blind spots, reduce glare, and don’t need to be adjusted.
However, there is one legal obstacle that must be eliminated before this innovation can be implemented in the United States. Currently, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration requires passenger vehicles to have at least one side mirror and windshield mirror. Numerous automakers have petitioned for this law to be changed, but it may be some time before that happens. Until then, we’ll have to be content with the old fashioned mirrors.
Innovation #4: Adaptive Cruise Control
Numerous cars now implement adaptive cruise control, which keeps your car a safe distance from other cars when it’s on the road. However, a group of Canadian researchers is trying to take this technology one step further.
Utilizing something called “ecological adaptive cruise control”, they want to create an onboard sensor that will adapt to road conditions, traffic conditions, hills, curves, and more to improve overall fuel efficiency.
Granted, this technology hasn’t actually been created yet. It’s still in the development stage, existing primarily in computer simulations and calculations. But at the rate that fuel efficiency is improving, we should expect to see this being implemented in the somewhat near future.
Innovation #5: Affordable Electric Cars With Incredible Range
High-powered electric cars are no longer the domain of Tesla. For example, the recently unveiled Chevy Bolt is a fully electric car with a traveling distance of 200 miles between charges. The hybrid Chevy Volt offers a range of up to 420 miles with a full charge and a full tank of gas.
Some of these innovations can be attributed to cheaper car batteries, which in turn make the cars more affordable to the average consumer. Additionally, in an effort to cut down on carbon emissions, the U.S. government is offering tax credits to those who purchase hybrid and electric cars.
As batteries become more affordable, we should expect the prices of electric cars to drop even further, giving consumers even more reason to purchase them.
Innovation #6: Fuel Efficiency Coaches
Insurance companies like Allstate are already using tracking devices to reward drivers for safe driving. Now a Boston company called LinkeDrive is implementing a similar idea, but geared toward gas efficiency.
They’ve developed a product called PedalCoach, which is somewhat like a FitBit for truck drivers, helping them stay motivated to improve fuel efficiency. It’s an Android device that is installed in their truck cab and then uses algorithms to create fuel goals for each driver. These goals are then shown with a simple red-yellow-green display so that drivers can evaluate their performance.
The idea is that trucking companies would reward their drivers for fuel-efficient driving.
Innovation #7: Precise Fuel Injection
More automakers are using direct fuel injection, where they place an injector on each engine cylinder. The injectors spray gasoline directly into the each cylinder individually, which is far more efficient than the traditional port fuel-injection systems, which sprayed gasoline into the manifold.
When direct-injection systems are used, three things happen that increase fuel efficiency:
• The gasoline-air mixture burns more effectively
• The injectors distribute the fuel more equally
• The individual gasoline sprays are timed more precisely
This isn’t exactly a new technology, but more auto manufacturers are embracing it in an attempt to create more fuel efficient engines.
Innovation #8: Brake Regeneration
This technology goes hand-in-hand with the start/stop idle technology hybrid cars use. When a car begins braking, the car captures the kinetic energy from the brakes and converts that energy to electricity. This converted energy can then be used to charge the car battery, which cuts down on the amount of charges needed to keep an electric car running.
This perpetual energy generation can significantly improve fuel efficiency over the long run.
Innovation #9: Continuously Variable Transmission
Historically, transmissions have been powered by a set of fixed gears that have limited ratios. A continuously variable transmission system forgoes the gear system altogether and uses a pulley system to constantly optimize the drive ratio to the engine speed.
The CVT also has, essentially, an unlimited number of ratios since it’s not tied directly to a series of gears. The result is an engine that runs at optimum speed, which can significantly increase overall fuel efficiency.
Fuel efficiency is improving at a staggering pace. Whereas it was once impressive to get 30 miles to the gallon, we are now seeing completely electric cars as well as hybrids that get over 100 miles to the gallon.
Additionally, we are seeing the cost of electric and hybrid cars fall dramatically, which make them more accessible to the average consumer.
Incredible fuel efficiency used to be a thing of the future, but the future has now arrived. That’s good news for all of us. Φ
Marshall Tulley blogs here. This entry was posted on August 16.