As global markets evolve, fuel economy is becoming an increasingly important topic. Today, over 50% of the oil used around the world is for transportation, and over 75% of the energy used in the transportation sector is consumed on the road.
Driven by fears of crippling oil price spikes as well as concerns for the environment, the U.S. government is taking action to reduce consumption by aggressively increasing fuel economy standards. In 2010, the U.S. raised the average fuel economy for new passenger vehicles to 34.1 mpg by 2016. That mandate is increasing to 54.5 mpg in 2025. This shift is expected to reduce carbon intensity by 40% and cut U.S. oil usage by 12 billion barrels.
Fuel loss from unexpected places
While reformulation will help reduce fuel loss, the most significant loss is in the power train – especially from waste heat in the exhaust, coolant and brake pads. In fact, only 1/5 of the energy contained in a gallon of fuel actually propels the vehicle. Engineers are sure to address this with new engine designs and aerodynamic body styles.
Are hybrids the answer? Yes and no. A typical hybrid delivers 25-30% fuel savings over a conventional ignition, but only in specific situations like congested traffic. Hybrid drive train costs make them prohibitive for many consumers. They are certainly part of the solution, but likely not the answer some experts once expected.
Expect to see a host of different solutions working together to reach the new mpg standards. Power train improvements will be a focal point, along with body and accessory advancements, vehicle downsizing and some hybridization. While lower fuel usage is good news for our wallets, it could change the way we drive our vehicles and will certainly change vehicle designs and even highway infrastructure. When fuel prices spike, this demand only becomes more real.
What a Drag
With vehicles, the biggest physical drags on fuel economy are:
• Aerodynamic deficiencies
• Air conditioning systems
• Head lamps
• Material substitution
• Engine/truck design
• Drive-train design
And these are the biggest “in-use” drags:
• Vehicle condition
• Average driving speed and congestion
• Road surface
• Driver behavior
• Auxiliary equipment