Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the possible future of cars

An article at Motortrend covers the proposed 56.2 MPG fuel standard by 2025. It's easy to be alarmed by the article, as evidenced by some of the comments left there. I'm not alarmed. I'm impatient. Here's why.

My 2000 Saturn (an American car) has a lifetime average of over 43 MPG, though it's still low mileage, at 290,000. A turbocharger should boost it's fuel economy by 20%. That would bring it to 52.4 MPG. A cruise control would boost highway economy by 5 MPG. That's been my experience with all my other cars. This car isn't a hybrid, or diesel, or indeed anything special. It's a cheap, reasonably peppy 4 door sedan, with air conditioning added for summer comfort and safety. Adding a cruise control would add less than $50. A turbocharger is a bit more, but not thousands. It'd be cheaper than A/C, and would pay for itself in gas. So, 56.2 MPG was achievable more than ten years ago at a reasonable price. Why wait?

I've said earlier that reducing highway speed from 70 MPH (in Michigan) to 62 MPH (100 km/hr) improves fuel economy by 17%. This hasn't changed. Not only do you save money, but your vehicle gets better range. Highway signs are cheap. They were changed to 55 MPH nationwide for a few years in the late 70's. We didn't get out of that fuel crisis because we obtained more fuel. We got out of it by improving fuel economy. One of the issues is that refinery capacity isn't growing. So gas availability is effectively capped. That's what the crisis was about.

The following was my response to the Motortrend article, including some of the comments at the time.

The BP oil spill in the Gulf has cost plenty to everyone. It's still costing us.

The American auto industry isn't at a disadvantage. My 11 year old American car has delivered over 43 MPG, lifetime average. Nearly 50 on the highway. It's just a cheap car, with A/C.

There's a saying that "There's no replacement for displacement" in the industry, meaning you have to have a big engine to have high power. But turbochargers have been in use since at least the 1940's, where they delivered higher power at lower weight, with less fuel, giving performance and range to aircraft. That's a 70 year lifetime for this particular nonsense.

This article claims that a breakthrough in battery technology is unexpected. But more than ten years ago, flywheel batteries were shown to have a 50:1 advantage in energy storage to weight ratio over lead-acid batteries. That's much better than Lithium. Everything in a flywheel is recyclable, and there are no toxic or rare chemicals.

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