Study details methods to boost cars' efficiency

By Data Feature

By Justin Hyde
Detroit Free Press
WASHINGTON – A long-delayed federal report on future technology for making vehicles more efficient finds several options that could boost mileage by 50 percent but add up to $9,000 to the cost of a new vehicle.
The study by the National Academies of Science was supposed to be released in 2008, but took longer than expected and was outpaced by Congress, the Obama administration and California officials as they set new fuel economy standards. The government has set a target for new U.S. vehicles to average 34.1 mpg by 2016, with reductions in carbon emissions raising the requirement to 35.5 mpg.
The panel found that based on a 2007 vehicle, available technology could boost a typical gasoline engine’s efficiency by 29 percent at a cost of $2,200. Switching to diesel engines would offer a 37 percent increase for $5,900 per vehicle, while a hybrid could offer up to a 50 percent improvement for $9,000.
Many of the technologies listed in the report have already been adopted to some degree by automakers, who are rolling out 2011 model year vehicles now and are close to completing engineering work through the 2013 year.
The study also considered more exotic technology, such as plug-in hybrids and homogenous charge combustion, where gasoline engines use diesel-type compression rather than a spark for ignition. But it said beyond a five-year window, forecasting what technology would work best for the lowest cost was too difficult.
It also recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rework window stickers on new vehicles to give fuel consumption figures – such as gallons burned per 100 miles travelled – in addition to traditional fuel economy numbers, so that owners know more about how much fuel they use.