The occasion was the public debut of NextCruise, an event for which I am serving as volunteer chairman - TheCarConnection.com, in full disclosure, is not in any way involved in the event. Three senior industry leaders, one from each of Detroit's Big Three, were on hand and asked what it will take to transform the auto industry into one more environmentally friendly.
"There's no silver bullet," emphasized Micky Bly, a senior powertrain executive at General Motors and a key player in the development of GM's Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle. Instead, we need to expect a whole range of alternatives to today's conventional gasoline engine.
The likely list ranges from hybrids and plug-ins, like Volt, to clean diesels and hydrogen power. Some of these are ready for the road already, while others, like hydrogen-powered fuel cells, are a decade or more away from production.
Surprisingly, all of the experts on the panel agreed that, as Bly suggested, "the gasoline engine isn't going away" anytime soon. But that doesn't mean technical business-as-usual.
Ford's new EcoBoost engine is an example of big changes in a relatively familiar package. This turbocharged direct-injection engine, which will debut in an upcoming Lincoln product, can deliver V-8 performance with V-6 mileage.
That package is complex, and it isn't cheap. But in some cases, surprisingly simple, low-cost technology will yield significant improvements in efficiency (read: mileage). Like something automotive engineers alternatively call Autostart, or Start-Stop.
If you've driven a full hybrid, like the Toyota Prius or Ford Escape Hybrid, you've undoubtedly experienced the concept. Come to a light, step on the brake and you may notice a subtle shudder, as the gasoline engine is shut off automatically. The light changes, you lift your foot, and before you even reach the accelerator pedal, the engine is running again.
Idling is a hidden thief, capable of robbing a gallon or more an hour, whether you're sitting in heavy freeway traffic, or waiting on line for a coffee to go. Recent studies show that you can save fuel shutting an engine off for as little as 15 seconds rather than idling. Few of us want to keep switching on-and-off as we creep forward in line, or in traffic, so it's great to have the car do it for you automatically.
"In 10 years, you'll be looked at as low-tech if your car runs at idle," said another speaker at the NextCruise forum, Chrysler's senior manager of hybrid system integration Jay Iyengar. And it won't be just hybrids offering the feature, but just about every vehicle on the road.
What other features might we see? While BMW wasn't on hand for the Wednesday panel, the company will be participating in the actual NextCruise next month, and we imagine it'll be talking about some of the mileage-minded features on the new 1-Series, such as its electric power steering. BMW isn't alone there, of course. On the I-4 version of the Saturn Vue, electric v hydraulic power steering saves about a mile a gallon. But the BMW 1-er uses a new, rack-mounted motor that restores the sort of handling and road feel earlier electric steering systems lost.
Look for that technology to spread, as, I believe, will the new 1-Series system that automatically decouples the car's alternator when the battery is charged up. Spinning power steering pumps and alternators can suck several miles a gallon off your mileage numbers. This new system is available only in Europe - for now - but look for it to propagate fast, as automakers race to meet tough new mileage standards.
Yes, it's possible to yield big savings through major efforts, like adopting lightweight body panels and switching to advanced powertrain technologies. But manufacturers have yet to pluck all the low-hanging fruit. So relatively simple systems, like Autostart, will play an important role in the greening of the automobile.
Oh, and for those interested in the upcoming NextCruise, here's the formal press release:
2008 Inaugural NextCruiseTM Brings Environmentally Friendly and Future-Looking Dimension to Woodward Dream Cruise
Nine Auto Manufacturers - And Two "Green' Motorsport Series - To Display Technologies And Provide Public Ride And Drives
Pleasant Ridge, Mich., July 23 - The 2008 Inaugural NextCruiseTM, to take place on August 15-16, is a new event - new in both concept and content. Staged in the City of Pleasant Ridge, NextCruiseTM introduces an environmentally friendly and future-looking dimension to the Woodward Dream Cruise, widely viewed as the world's largest automotive spectator and participation event.
Nine of the world's largest automakers are supporting NextCruiseTM, by providing the public with multiple opportunities to check out - and drive - the latest in "Green Machines" (including hybrids, clean diesels and those with other, new super-high-mileage and ultra-low-emission technologies).
"NextCruiseTM marks a number of important firsts," said TCC Team, Event Chairman. " It's the first-ever public event that brings together such a large array of leading automakers, specifically to display environmental vehicles and technologies; the first-ever event where the public has the chance to drive such a wide assortment of clean, high-economy cars, trucks and crossovers; and it's the first-ever official Woodward Dream Cruise event that is specifically future-focused.
"NextCruiseTM helps expand the relevance of the Woodward Dream Cruise from what is primarily a retrospective into a celebration of the automobile, past, present and future," TCC Team added.
NextCruiseTM will also feature displays of even more advanced green concepts and technologies, such as fuel cells and hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, together with experts to provide insight into how those developments can reach production in the not-too-distant future.
"As Pleasant Ridge has the longest stretch of green space on the entire Woodward Corridor, it's highly fitting that the City should be the host of this "Green" event as part of the Woodward Dream Cruise," said George Lenko, Pleasant Ridge Commissioner and NextCruiseTM organizer. NextCruiseTM will be based in Memorial Park, immediately adjacent to Pleasant Ridge City Hall.
"Today's and tomorrow's Green Machines challenge the stereotype that environmentally-friendly automobiles require customers to make significant sacrifices: in size, features, comfort and, especially, performance," said TCC team. "NextCruiseTM provides a venue for manufacturers to display current and future Green technologies and engage the public in understanding that the newest Green Machines are roomy, well-equipped and, in keeping with the spirit of the Dream Cruise, able to deliver surprising performance and fun."
NextCruiseTM also will include a look at the next generation of "green" motorsports, including the ethanol-fueled IndyCar Series, and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), which features a unique Green Racing Challenge this season. The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix - which takes place on Labor Day weekend - includes both IndyCar and ALMS races. The motorsport display will include race cars and appearances by key IndyCar and ALMS drivers.
"Because of the press of competition, motorsport has traditionally developed technologies that have found their way to production cars," TCC Team stated. "Motorsport can be exciting, competitive and environmentally friendly, all at the same time.
"NextCruiseTM, put simply, is lean, mean ... and green."
NextCruiseTM will be held in Pleasant Ridge's Memorial Park along Woodward Avenue, north of Nine Mile Road. There will be a public preview on the evening of August 15. NextCruiseTM itself takes place concurrent with the Woodward Dream Cruise on August 16. Major auto manufacturers supporting include General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen. Other sponsors and exhibitors include Bridgestone, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, IndyCar Series, American Le Mans Series, PR Newswire, G-2 Communications and ESI. For information go to www.nextcruise2008.com or email email@example.com.
Pleasant Ridge is known for its historic homes, tree-lined streets and active citizens who dedicate their time for the betterment of the community. A long tradition of community pride is reflected in the City's beautiful parks along Woodward Avenue and its pristine neighborhoods. Many of the houses in Pleasant Ridge are part of a nationally-recognized historic district and all the homes reflect the care and attention which assures that Pleasant Ridge will remain a beautiful community for generations to come. A strong sense of community, dedication to historic preservation and ideal location makes Pleasant Ridge the perfect city for all ages, interests and lifestyles. Go to www.cityofpleasantridge.org.
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