Despite vehicle electrification being one of the most exciting stories in automotive technology today, the dream of EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in every driveway remains an elusive one. Whilst EVs boast neck-snapping 0-60 statistics and clearly offer serious environmental benefits, they will remain out of reach of the ordinary consumer for at least another decade. In fact, only one electrified vehicle technology has emerged that both delights drivers and satisfies emissions regulations at reasonable cost today: micro-hybrids. Featuring start/stop technology, and requiring only low-cost drop-in components to produce, these vehicles can move the needle on emissions while building bottom lines in Detroit now. However, with relatively little start/stop system development in the US, the country’s domestic OEMs risk falling behind on this key technology.
European OEMs saw the market potential of this technology some time ago and have already begun to profit from it. BMW, for example, now ships its 1 Series with standard start/stop functionality. According to both Johnson Controls and Lux Research, start/stop will be standard on European vehicles in less than five years, with 34 million such vehicles per year shipping by 2015. China will soon follow suit. With strict emissions standards, lightning-fast technology adoption, and a recent government policy shift from EVs toward more near-term fuel economy solutions, China’s micro-hybrid production could quickly eclipse Europe’s. Meanwhile, US OEMs have made relatively little use of the start/stop system.
Only one electrified vehicle technology has emerged that both delights drivers and satisfies emissions regulations at reasonable cost today: micro-hybrids.
To be fair, some claim that start/stop vehicles do not suit US drive patterns, which differ from those in Europe and Asia. However, start/stop systems can still provide real fuel savings on US roads. If Detroit continues to invest little in start/stop, foreign competitors will bring their micro-hybrids to the US market, and domestic manufacturers will have to work harder to deliver this consumer-friendly innovation.
Current technologies – available today and easily integrated into existing manufacturing processes – make micro-hybrids an exciting opportunity. Start/stop systems could increase fuel economy by 5-10% in many standard models. Meanwhile, new energy storage solutions that can further improve micro-hybrid performance are proliferating, ranging from cutting-edge ultra-capacitors to improved battery chemistries such as Nickel-Zinc. Given the enormous expected micro-hybrid sales volumes, the technology winners who surf the micro-hybrid wave could see greater growth in sales and greater impact on fuel consumption and emissions than all other EV and PHEV solutions combined.
Start/stop is a low-risk technology with clear payoff for an industry that cannot make rash moves.
While micro-hybrids are part of an exciting technological transformation, they are also a profoundly low-risk choice. Micro-hybridisation aligns with the automotive industry’s most basic engineering philosophy for mass production: implementing proven, affordable improvements in vehicle performance. Start/stop is a low-risk technology with clear payoff for an industry that cannot make rash moves. The technology complements other improvements that vehicle manufacturers have implemented to increase fuel economy, such as lighter vehicles and more efficient engines, which together will enable them to increase fuel economy by at least 40% in this decade. Assembling such a suite of improvements is the most practical approach to emissions reduction. The alternative, a long wait for the mass adoption of evolving innovations like PHEVs, won’t get us where we need to go economically or environmentally.
With the practical, safe, economical option of micro-hybrids, US OEMs have a clear opportunity before them. Here’s hoping they seize it.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Dan Squiller is Chief Executive of PowerGenix.
PowerGenix is an environmentally friendly battery developer and manufacturer based in San Diego, CA. The company has developed and patented a high-power and low-cost Nickel-Zinc battery for power intensive electronics, toys, power tools and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), providing an effective and environmentally friendly recyclable alternative to existing battery technologies.
For more information, visit: www.powergenix.com
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