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Experts: Revise fuel-economy rules to reflect real-world driving

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Experts: Revise fuel-economy rules to reflect real-world driving

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- An expert panel called on government agencies today to revise fuel-economy testing to better reflect real-world driving conditions.

The National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel in 2007 to assess technologies to boost fuel economy and make findings on the state of vehicle efficiency at the request of government regulators, releasing a report today.

"Reducing the amount of fuel we use is an important goal for the nation and for the individual consumer," said Trevor Jones, chair of the committee that wrote the report and chair and CEO of ElectroSonics Medical Inc. in Cleveland. "Consumers will need to consider the trade-offs between higher vehicle prices and saving fuel and money at the gas pump."

A report released today said automakers face significant costs to meet new requirements.

The panel -- which includes a professor from Michigan Technological University, a retired DaimlerChrysler executive and the president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor -- called on the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite fuel economy rules so "vehicle test data better reflects actual fuel consumption."

"Excluding some driving conditions and accessory loads in determining CAFE discourages the introduction of certain technologies into the vehicle fleet," the panel wrote in its 360-page report. "NHTSA and the EPA should review and revise fuel economy test procedures so that they better reflect in-use vehicle operating conditions."

In December 2006, EPA announced new tests that dropped city fuel economy for all vehicles by an average of 12 percent and 8 percent for highways. The report notes that fuel consumption data include money saved on fuel purchases and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. But now automakers should include fuel consumption data in addition to fuel economy information on vehicle stickers, the panel said.

In April, NHTSA and EPA set estimated average fleet-wide fuel economy requirements at 34.1 mpg by 2016, predicting the higher requirements will cost automakers $51.5 billion over five years and add $985 to the price of an average vehicle in 2016.

EPA and NHTSA are already at work to set new mandates for the 2017-2025 model years.

The panel praised cylinder deactivation as one of the more effective ways in reducing fuel consumption.

The feature is most cost-effective when applied to V6 and V8 engines and overhead valve engines, and generally reduces fuel consumption by 4 to 10 percent, the panel said, at a cost of about $550 per vehicle.

The panel also said downsizing engines is an important strategy -- especially when paired with turbo charging the engine.

Reductions in fuel consumption can range from 2 to 6 percent with turbo charging and downsizing.

The panel doesn't expect fuel cell vehicles to play a big role in the next 15 years and it said making electric vehicles widespread requires technological breakthroughs.

"The practicality of full performance battery electric vehicles (i.e., with driving range, trunk space, volume and acceleration comparable to those of vehicles powered with internal-combustion engines) depends on a battery cost breakthrough that the committee does not anticipate within the time horizon considered in this study," the panel wrote. "However, it is clear that small, limited-range, but otherwise full-performance battery electric vehicles will be marketed within that time frame."

The panel also praised reducing vehicle weight, noting "vehicles can be made very light with exotic materials, albeit at potentially high cost."

About 10 percent of vehicle mass can be eliminated at a cost of roughly $800 to $1,600 and can provide a fuel consumption benefit of about 6 to 7 percent, the panel said. "Reducing mass much beyond 10 percent requires attention to body structure design," the panel wrote.

The report noted that automakers have been grappling with what will replace internal combustion engines, and that they had lots of room for improvement.

In 1918, the report noted General Motors' researcher Charles Kettering "was predicting the demise of the internal combustion engine within five years because of its wasteful use of fuel energy."

"The good Lord has tolerated this foolishness of throwing away 90 percent of the energy in the fuel long enough," Kettering said.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100603/AUTO01/6030480/1148/auto01/Experts--Revise-fuel-economy-rules-to-reflect-real-world-driving#ixzz0ppYWSxQd

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