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White House Approves New Fuel Economy Rules, But What Does It Mean? 29
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, CAFE Standards, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 08 29th, 2012

The White House – image: Matt Wade Photography

It’s now official: by the year 2025, automakers must deliver average fuel economy of 54.4 miles per gallon across all passenger models sold. When you compare that to the current standard of 29.7 mpg, this much is clear: a lot of things will need to change, and cars are going to get more expensive.

According to government studies cited in The Detroit News, the average price of a new car will rise by $1,726, while the average price of a new truck will increase by $2,059. This will easily be offset by fuel savings, according to the same research; in fact, the buyer of a new car in 2025 will save as much as $5,000 on fuel over the life of the vehicle, even after the higher purchase price is factored in. That sounds good on paper (except the part about paying more up front for savings potentially realized later), but let us ask you this: when was the last time that the government was correct about anything involving financial projections?

Cars will need to get smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient, so expect to see more low-horsepower choices, along with more hybrids and (hopefully) more clean diesels, although the new rules seem to shun diesels for hybrids. As of 2014, the U.S. and Europe share common (or near common) rules for diesel emissions, meaning that automakers will have one less excuse for not offering diesel models worldwide. If our choices are an oil-burner or a hybrid, we’ll take the diesel almost every time.

It’s also important to understand that a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 54.5 mpg doesn’t necessarily translate to 54.5 mpg fuel economy in the real world. Since CAFE is a lab-generated number involving lots of fuzzy math and obscure variables, consumers are likely to see an average fuel economy of around 40 mpg, still a big jump from today’s numbers.

There are provisions for interim reviews along the way as well, which is a good thing when you’re trying to implement technology that doesn’t currently exist at a reasonable price point. While most automakers and the UAW support the plan (since it will effectively mean more new car sales), the National Automobile Dealers Association opposes it on the grounds that it will exclude some 7 million buyers from the new car market due to increased prices.

If the U.S. economy remains in the toilet, it’s clear to us that even more buyers will be avoiding new and more expensive cars, regardless of how much fuel they save.

Image credit: Matt Wade Photography, licensed under CC 2.0

Watchdog Group Sues Hyundai Over Elantra Fuel Economy 11
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Advertising, Automotive, Fuel Economy, Hyundai, Hyundai Elantra, Kurt, News on 07 11th, 2012

The Hyundai Elantra sedan – image courtesy of Hyundai

When you shop for a car, the window sticker, also known as the “Monroney label,” discloses a lot of information for the consumer. On it, you’ll find a car’s suggested price, complete with all included accessories, an estimated annual fuel cost, its smog score and its greenhouse gas (or global warming score). In bold numbers, you’ll also find three EPA-provided fuel economy numbers: highway mpg, city mpg and combined mpg.

The labels are meant to be easy to understand, and manufacturers don’t have much leeway in regards to the information contained. Advertising is a different matter, and here car companies have a bit more latitude in the claims they make, as long as they’re grounded in fact.

Since fuel economy became a selling point (back in about 1972), manufacturers emphasizing fuel economy have always highlighted the highest fuel economy number, usually highway mpg (except with some hybrids). On its new Elantra, for example, Hyundai points out that it’s capable of achieving fuel economy of 40 mpg. In fine print, the automaker identifies that this is highway mpg, and that city mpg is considerably lower at 29 mpg.

According to Automotive News (subscription required), a group calling itself “Consumer Watchdog” is now suing Hyundai over its advertising, alleging that the automaker was unclear about the conditions under which the Elantra could achieve 40 mpg. It further claims that disclosures in print advertising were illegible or omitted entirely, and is seeking unspecified damages (and class action status) on behalf of its client, Louis Bird.

Frankly, we’re more than a little tired of frivolous lawsuits, and the plaintiff’s allegations that he purchased the Elantra without understanding that it wouldn’t deliver 40 mpg under all conditions are, at best, ludicrous and a waste of the court’s time. If Hyundai is guilty here, than every manufacturer who’s ever sold a car based on fuel economy claims is complicit, too.

If Consumer Watchdog has its way, we assume that all future advertising would have to include city and combined mpg, too. Why stop there, though, since fuel economy can vary based on driving style? Why not include a disclaimer that “actual mileage, under all conditions, can range from 5 to 40 mpg?” You’ll have to include other disclaimers, too, like “depending upon the engine’s state of tune, environmental conditions, tire pressure, driving style, road surface and other factors to be determined.”

Perhaps a 30 minute spot, or a 10 page spread in print, would be enough to cover these absurd requirements, but who’d actually watch or read such an ad? As with any major purchase, the old rule of “buyer beware” applies to cars. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re buying, don’t put your money down.

Upcoming Dodge Dart Could Get 40 MPG 6
Posted by Kurt Ernst in 2013 Dodge Dart, Automotive, Dodge, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 01 6th, 2012

The 2013 Dodge Dart. Image: Chrysler Group LLC

Chrysler put out a press release a few days back that focused on Fiat earning another five percent of Chrysler, for meeting the last of three goals assigned by the Obama administration during the 2009 bailout. Downplayed within the release was the fact that the new Dodge Dart has achieved an “unadjusted” combined mileage rating of 40 mpg. If the Dart actually hit 40 mpg in combined fuel economy, the car wouldn’t be evolutionary, it would be revolutionary; as with everything else in business and politics these days, the math used in getting those numbers is somewhat fuzzy.

First, we’re no experts on the EPA’s test cycle, and how it’s used to calculate fuel economy. Those who know more than we do about this stuff say that the actual fuel economy numbers that will appear on the Dart’s window sticker are likely to be some 20 percent less. Twenty percent isn’t exactly a rounding error, although a combined fuel economy of 32 mpg is still impressive.

That said, don’t take the numbers on a window sticker as gospel. The new Chrysler 300 SRT8, for example, gets an EPA estimated 14 mpg around town and an estimated 23 mpg on the highway. Look closer and you’ll see that the “expected” range of city mpg varies from 11 to 17 mpg (a spread of nearly 55 percent) and the “expected” highway fuel economy can be anywhere from 19 to 27 mpg. (a spread of just over 42 percent).

It’s not even that simple, since flogging the SRT8 hard on a track day will yield mileage in the single digits, while a professional hypermiler could probably get 30 mpg out of the car under the right conditions. There’s a reason that the phrase, “your mileage may vary” has become part of our vocabulary.

We’re not meaning to downplay the new Dodge Dart, which may prove to be the most important car the automaker has ever built. We can’t wait to see it up close and personal, or better yet, get behind the wheel. Until then, we know enough not to believe everything we read in a press release (or on a window sticker).

GM To Partner With BMW On Fuel Efficient Designs 4
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, BMW, Fuel Economy, GM, Kurt on 10 4th, 2011

The 2012 Chevy Silverado Hybrid, result of GM's first collaboration with BMW. Image: © GM Corp.

While GM and BMW are both automakers, you’d hardly consider them rivals. GM builds, among other things, cars and trucks for the masses. BMW builds cars for the masses in Europe, but in the United States the Bavarian automaker is seen as a luxury brand and is priced accordingly. In regards to fuel efficiency, BMW builds more advanced gas and diesel engines than GM. When it comes to extended range EVs, General Motors has the superior technology.

These are difficult times for automakers, since regulations here and in Europe are requiring cars to be ever cleaner and more fuel efficient. Partnerships between automakers seem to crop up on a regular basis, and now GM has let slip that it’s working with BMW to design more fuel efficient vehicles. GM will get the benefit of BMW’s advanced engine designs, while BMW will benefit from GM’s battery, extended range EV and fuel cell research. Typically German, BMW’s response is simply, “we don’t comment on speculation.”

As Forbes points out, the partnership will also allow both companies to realize a savings in research and development, critical at a time when all automakers are looking to contain costs. This isn’t the first collaboration between BMW and GM; in 2005, GM, Daimler-Chrysler and BMW worked together on a project called Global Hybrid Cooperation. Ultimately, this led to the development of the two-mode hybrid system still used by GM on its hybrid pickups and SUVs.

New CAFE Standard May Not Be A Done Deal After All 3
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, CAFE, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 10 3rd, 2011

Image: Flickr user dcJohn

If you follow what’s going on in the automotive industry, there’s a lot of fear and loathing these days regarding the upcoming CAFE requirements. Short-term gains aside, manufacturers have an officially defined goal of reaching 54.5 mpg in passenger cars by 2025. The technology exists to build cars like this today, but lightweight materials are expensive, and not everyone is satisfied driving a 95 horsepower blandmobile with the entertainment value of steamed white rice.

The challenge for automakers, then, is to build desirable cars that double existing fuel economy, at prices consumers can afford. Problem one is that no one knows how to do that, and problem two is that no one asked the American public whether or not they backed the new CAFE standard. Telling the public that cars of the future will be more fuel efficient (and more expensive) is one thing, but no one’s mentioned the drawbacks. Will consumers want to buy cars that no longer carry spare tires? Although many cars come sans spare today, the ugly truth is that most buyers don’t even know this.

What about cars that have lower capacity batteries, requiring more frequent changes? Or cars that have parallel powertrains, that are more expensive to buy and maintain? As The Detroit News reports, those are some of the questions raised by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Congressman Issa has requested that the EPA and NHTSA turn over all correspondence relating to the previously approved 54.5 mpg CAFE standard. Citing public safety concerns, Issa has given the agencies until October 11 to respond.

That gives the American public a chance to comment on the new requirements, and it also delays publishing the regulations until November. Will it ultimately change anything? Probably not, since the already-accepted regulations have the buy-in of groups including automakers and even the California Air Resources Board. Still, you may soon have a chance to have your voice heard, and we’ll let you know more details as we learn them.

New Cafe Rules Not All Bad: Turbo Usage Expected To Triple 2
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, Forced Induction, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News, Technical, Turbocharging on 08 2nd, 2011

Turbos awaiting installation at Hyundai's Alabama plant.

If you want to get substantially better fuel economy out of a car or truck, your options for doing so are somewhat limited. You can lighten the vehicle, but doing so is likely to reduce overall strength or substantially increase the price. You can add a hybrid drivetrain, but that adds weight, increases complexity and adds to the price. You can downsize the engine, but few drivers are willing to accept a significant reduction in power just to gain a few more mpgs. There’s another choice, though, and it’s one that’s being rapidly embraced by manufacturers as the best and most cost-effective solution: downsize the engine, and then turbocharge it.

In the old days, turbos had a questionable reputation for reliability. Formula One engines of the 1980’s, for example, were small displacement, turbocharged four-cylinders that ran massive amounts of boost to create power. Calling these engines fragile is an understatement, and spectacular engine failures were common. Even on road cars, turbos often experienced bearing problems related to oil circulation, and engine failure was far more common than on less stressed, normally aspirated cars.

Not so with the new generation of turbocharged cars. Ford’s EcoBoost, for example, runs a modest amount of boost, but pumps the additional air into an engine that already has high compression and gasoline direct injection. High compression and turbocharging used to be a recipe for disaster, but today’s knock-sensing technology makes such a setup possible. The end result is more power, plus better fuel economy, from a smaller displacement engine.

Turbo and component supplier Honeywell sees the writing on the wall. Their vice president of engineering, Steve McKinley, summed it up by saying, “Engine downsizing coupled with turbos is the quickest way to make a significant improvement in the overall fuel efficiency of the U.S. automotive portfolio while maintaining performance levels.” In other words, now would probably be a very good time to invest in Honeywell stock.

GM agrees with this philosophy, too, and offers a 1.4-liter turbo option for their Cruze compact sedan. The upcoming Sonic will have a forced-induction engine choice, too, and don’t be surprised to see turbocharged fours replacing V-6s and I-6s throughout many manufacturer’s product lines.

More power from less gas? What’s not to like about that?

Source: Left Lane News

54.5 MPG Is Coming, But What Does It Mean? 1
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, CAFE, EPA, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 08 1st, 2011

Image: dsb nola

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced that a deal had been reached on new Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards for cars and light trucks between 2017 and 2025. It was a mixed bag, with both the federal government and the automakers compromising to achieve results each side could live with. Even California, who reserves the right to set their own fuel economy and emission standards, bought into the new fleet-wide requirement of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

If you’re an enthusiast, it’s easy to be alarmed by these numbers. By EPA ratings, not a single gasoline-powered vehicle achieves this today. In fact, only the Toyota Prius, at 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway, comes close. Does this mean we’re looking at a future of driving cars even less entertaining than the Prius? Are the golden days of muscle cars and sports cars behind us?

Not necessarily, because buried in the new fuel economy standards are some exceptions that aren’t well publicized. First, there isn’t a direct parallel between a CAFE rating of 54.5 mpg and an EPA rating of 54.5 mpg. The CAFE rating is based on a complex series of variables, and the fuel economy standard is overstated compared to the EPA rating. I don’t have a conversion chart, but understand this: 54.5 mpg under CAFE isn’t 50 mpg under EPA, and it’s probably not even 40 mpg. It may not even be 35 mpg.

Next, there are “allowances” granted to automakers for being environmentally friendly. Opt to use a refrigerant that’s environmentally friendly, and you get a credit that can be applied to lower your CAFE average. Build an electric car? That’s another credit, even if you only sell a handful. Build a hybrid? That’s another credit to lower your overall score. Using Ford as an example, the Focus Electric will offset the Mustang Shelby GT500, ensuring that both cars (or their equivalents) can still be found on the showroom floor.

By 2025, cars will be more fuel efficient. They’ll be lighter, with smaller and more efficient engines. Hybrids will be common, but that may turn out to be a good thing for sports car fans as hybrid technology goes more mainstream. Imagine a car with perfect weight distribution front to rear, that has AWD thanks to a standard drivetrain plus electric motors, and still gets better than 35 mpg. By 2025, I’d be willing to bet that performance hybrids are faster than today’s muscle cars, for about the same kind of money. If that’s really the future, I’m pretty sure I can live with 54.5 mpg.

Automakers Not Selling Enough ‘Green’ Cars To Meet Looming CAFE Standards 5
Posted by Kurt Ernst in auto news, Automotive, CAFE Standards, Car Buying, Fuel Economy, hybrid, News on 04 5th, 2011

Toyota's Prius is the only hybrid whose demand exceeds supply. Image: Toyota

By 2016, automakers who sell their wares in the United States have to achieve a CAFE average of 35.5 miles per gallon. To put that number in perspective, the average fuel economy of a vehicle sold in 2010 was 22.2 miles per gallon; in other words, in the next five years, fuel economy has to increase by an average of nearly 61% per vehicle sold. That’s not even remotely possible, especially when you consider that the average fuel economy per vehicle sold declined from 2009 to 2010. One reason is that sales of trucks, minivans and SUVs rose by 3% last year; in other words, Americans like big vehicles, and as long as gas prices don’t stay at current levels, we’ll continue to buy trucks. That’s bad news for automakers, who face stiff financial penalties if they can’t achieve the ridiculously optimistic CAFE goals. So what happens next?

First, it’s unlikely that Americans will change their vehicle buying habits unless they’re convinced high fuel prices are here to stay. Even then, downsizing is likely to mean buying a smaller truck or SUV, not jumping all the way down to a fuel efficient compact hybrid. In fact, hybrid market share shrank from 2.9% of vehicles sold in 2009 to 2.4% of vehicles sold in 2010. The only hybrids I know that are selling well are the Toyota Prius (bought by the minority of Americans who are truly concerned about global warming, fuel prices and the environment) and the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, which costs the exact same amount as its non-hybrid sibling. Despite the best attempt by automaker to change our buying habits, this much should be obvious: Americans don’t like hybrids, because they’re still too “different” than the cars we’re used to.

So what options do automakers really have? One, as far as I can tell: petition the government to relax the implementation of CAFE standards, at least until the technology catches up with the legislation. The only alternative I can see is slapping huge surcharges on trucks, to encourage buyers to downsize to more sensible transportation. I can’t think of a politician stupid enough to promote that agenda, which would cetainly be political suicide.

Source: Autoblog

Chevy Gives Tips To Cut Your Gas Bill 9
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive Help, Chevrolet, Driving, Fuel Economy, Fuel Saving, News, Tips on 03 9th, 2011

Regardless of what you drive, all of us are feeling the pain of increased gas prices these days. It’s not even the start of the summer vacation price gouging yet, and prices are at or above $4.00 per gallon in a lot of states. Since most of us can’t afford to buy a new car just to save gas, Chevy and the Environmental Protection Agency have these tips to minimize your pain at the pump:

Tune Up: A properly tuned engine can boost fuel economy by about 4%, while a bad oxygen sensor can decrease fuel economy by up to 40%. Pay attention to things like a “Check Engine” light, and don’t forget to change your air cleaner regularly.

Pump Up: Check your tire pressure regularly, since under-inflated tires can reduce fuel economy by 3.3%.

Unpack: If you don’t need it, don’t carry it. When was the last time you used those jumper cables, anyway? An extra 100 pounds of cargo cuts fuel economy by 2 percent, and that empty cargo pod on your roof rack is costing you 5%.

Slow Down: Here’s a tough one to comply with, but fuel economy decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 MPH. Based on the EPA’s math, every 5 MPH over 60 costs you the equivalent of $0.24 more per gallon. If you drive at 75 MPH like most everyone else, that’s costing you an additional $0.74 per gallon.

Avoid Idling: Jacksonville, FL, is the land of traffic lights. Time it wrong, and an 8 mile cross town trip can take 45 minutes, most of which are spent idling at traffic lights. Fifteen minutes of idling can cost you up to a quarter gallon of gas, so shut it down when you can.

Chill Out: If you dive like you’re hauling unstable dynamite (slow starts, gentle braking), you can save up to 33% on the highway and 5% around town.

Roll ‘Em Down Around Town: At speeds under 45 miles per hour, the EPA says opens windows are 10% more fuel efficient than air conditioning. That’s not the case at higher speeds, since those open windows create drag and cost you fuel economy.

Plan Route: This is over-stating the obvious, but planning routes to minimize both distance driven and time spent sitting in traffic will boost fuel economy.

You can expect another price jump at Easter and still another at Memorial Day, so the big question is whether or not fuel prices will drop in between. Let’s hope so.

BMW Brings Back The Four Banger 31
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, BMW, BMW Engines, Fuel Economy, News on 01 31st, 2011

The last time a four cylinder engine powered a BMW in the United States was in 1999; back then, it was a somewhat anemic 138 horsepower. You could find it in the entry level Z3 roadster, and in the quirky BMW 318i Compact, but customer perception was that real BMWs had six cylinder engines. By 1999, the 318i had been dropped from BMW’s U.S. lineup, and the base motor in the Z3 was upgraded to a 2.5 liter straight six. BMW would continue the use of four cylinder engines in the EU, where fuel economy and price were primary concerns, and would focus on premium cars with six or more cylinders for the U.S. market.

That was a sound strategy except for one thing: ever tightening CAFE requirements. In order to improve fuel efficiency of their smaller-engined cars and SUVs, BMW has announced a new 2.0 liter, twin scroll turbo engine for the U.S. market. Unlike the old 1.8 liter four, there’s nothing anemic about BMW’s latest four banger. In addition to the twin-scroll turbo setup, the engine uses high pressure direct injection and variable intake valve timing to produce 240 horsepower and 260 ft lb of torque. What’s even more impressive is that peak torque comes at just 1,250 RPM, and peak horsepower comes at 5,000 RPM. Unlike four cylinder turbos of old, you won’t have to bang this one off the rev limiter to make power.

There’s no word yet on which vehicles will get the new turbo four, but it’s probably safe to assume that anything ending in “28” is fair game. BMW hasn’t published claims on increased fuel efficiency, but I’d expect to see at least a 10% bump in fuel economy compared to their current 3.0 liter six, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the final number was even higher than that. Now, can we get a 1 Series car with this motor and the M suspension, priced below $35,000? That would be a true entry level performance BMW, and would be a fitting tribute to the original M3.

Source: BMW USA