Posts Tagged ‘mpg’

It’s Auto Show Time

January 30, 2013

Photo taken in in the Mustang Gallery at the Philadelphia Auto Show

Photo taken in in the Mustang Gallery at the Philadelphia Auto Show.

It is always fun to go to the Philadelphia Auto Show. Like last year, I was really impressed with some of the technology being used to achieve higher miles per gallon (mpg). Aside from the obvious choice (hybrids), manufacturers are using lots of techniques to meet the mandates of the government and a growing sector of the market. The most well known choices are hybrids (including plug-ins) and electric cars. Diesels have good reputations for gas mileage also. Less well-known are some of the ways manufacturers are improving the mpg performance of regular gasoline engine powered cars (in addition to making them lighter).

At the show, I noticed that direct injection, continuously variable transmissions (CVT), and turbo-charging tended to appear in many manufacturers’ “eco” engines. Direct injection improves how the fuel gets into the pistons, making them more efficient. In laymen’s terms (my level) the CVT essentially creates more gears in an automatic transmission. This results in a more efficient use of the transmission at any given speed.

Numerous manufacturers are reporting good results from their newer engines. In Europe, for example Volvo’s T4 engine has delivered 35-45 mpg (city/highway) PLUS excellent torque with ample horsepower. Equally importantly in many people’s eyes, the T4 goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds. This is an example of the fact that for many people, mpg is very important, but other factors (such as power) are pretty important also. Volvo is so pleased with the T4 engine that it plans to standardize its entire fleet with the T4 by 2015 as well as introduce the T45 engine to the US.

An ordinary looking Chevy Malibu

An ordinary looking Chevy Malibu

In terms of standardization, both Ford and Chevrolet are coming close to standardizing their “eco” engines across certain models. Ford has announced that it plans to produce 1.5 million cars with its “Ecoboost” technology in 2013 (I assume worldwide). Within a couple of years, 98% of Ford’s (car) models will have the CVT technology. For its part, Chevrolet uses an Ecotech engine with similar CVT and direct injection features on its Malibu and, more interestingly, as an option on some Silverado trucks. The Silverados even have a “fuel management” feature, which automatically switches the engine from a V6 (or V8) to a V4 cylinder in terms of fuel usage. Additionally, both the Malibu and the Silverado have become lighter in recent years.

I am particularly impressed with Mazda’s Skyactiv engine system. It includes the direct injection and CVT components, but it also includes a piston redesign and very high compression ratios (13:1). The piston are now dome capped, vs. flat-capped before. This allows more airflow per piston cycle. They also substituted hi-tensile (lighter) steel for the heavier steel. This helps with weight reduction and reduces internal friction as well.

Gas engines have come a long way.

Gas engines have come a long way.

I like hybrids, and think electric cars are wonderful. The market for them is certainly growing. However, many millions of people will continue to buy cars with gas engines into the foreseeable future. I’m all for anything the manufacturers can do to improve the miles per gallon performance of the basic gasoline engine. The bottom line is that the car is using less fuel. I am very curious to see what will be available when I have to buy my next car.

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Our New Car

October 23, 2012

When we were looking for a new car, I read with great interest a review that said “the VW Jetta SportWagen saved my life when I was T-boned.” Since my wife had herself been T-boned, this got our attention very quickly. She is now OK, but the car she used to drive, a trusty Subaru Impreza Outback Sport that she had loved, sacrificed its life in the process of saving hers. When we first starting looking for a replacement car, I was hoping she would prefer the most environmentally friendly hatchback that had good safety rating (represented by the Prius due to gas mileage). Ultimately, we ended up with something else. The something else was a VW Jetta SportWagen (regular gas engine, not the diesel).

Our first choice was the redesigned Impreza, but its relatively small trunk did not play nicely with our toddler’s stroller. So how did we arrive at the VW instead of the Prius? The answer for us, like many automobile buyers, is that gas mileage, while important, is not the only thing we looked for in buying the car. We absolutely wanted to improve the gas mileage over the old Impreza’s 22 mpg city to 27 mpg highway, so it was important. But other goals were important also. These included a hatchback, good safety ratings, ample storage, and ease of driving (being able to see clearly out of the car while driving). Being able to have the toddler seat in the middle of the car became surprisingly important also.

Underlying all of these factors was probably the most limiting one—price. Since we wanted the latest safety technology, we wanted a 2013 (or 2012) car if at all possible. We had a certain price target that we felt we could afford. The net result of that was a car in the low 20s, which put a number of models in the mid 20s out or range. Additionally, we ended up having a fairly limited time window to actually buy the car. Given where we were in the overall car market, we were thrilled to actually have 2 realistic options to choose from, a 2011 Prius and a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. (We made an exception to our new car idea to include a used Prius, mostly for the gas mileage.)

Looking back, it is very interesting for me to realize that for the car purchase, I gave practically no consideration to the usual sustainability aspects that I have used for many other product purchase decisions. For example, I did not consider at all where the product was made. Nor did I concern myself with the environmental practices of the factory where the car was made. I recently found that a Toyota dealer in Allentown is actually LEED (green building) certified but LEED never entered my mind during this process. The most important factor in choosing which dealer got the deal was the price they offered me.

For this decision, gas mileage was the beginning and end of the consideration of the environmental aspects of the car. While gas mileage was on the list, it ended up not being as important as the combination of safety, visibility, and storage, toddler comfort, and most crucially, price. What ultimately swayed the decision was that my wife had loved her Impreza except for the mileage. It became apparent that the VW (Jetta SportWagen) had all of the advantages over the Prius (storage, visibility, ease of driving)—except for gas mileage. So we went for the VW (and settled for a 15%-20% improvement in gas mileage vs nearly 100%).

Given the market segment we were in, I should be happy we found something at least as good as the trusty, recently departed Impreza. Instead of being disappointed that the VW does not deliver the gas mileage of the Prius, I should be happy that it is delivering a similar driving experience to the old Impreza, with more storage for the toddler’s stuff and better gas mileage. I have no curent plans to replace my Subaru. But if I have to, I will be very curious what combination of price, storage, safety, and mileage both Subaru and VW can bring to the table. For that matter, I’ll be looking to see if any other brands have that combination as well.


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