Five Signs That Detroit Is Committed to Fuel Efficiency for Longterm

  1. Automotive executives are planning based on high oil and gas prices.

    The New York Times reports today that Dan Akerson, G.M.’s chief executive, has told his product executives to use $120 a barrel oil and $4 a gallon gas as the basis for its vehicle development strategy.

  2. Cars are being built ready to accept gas, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric drivetrains.

    We’ve already seen models like the Mercedes ML 450 hybrid that is available in gas, diesel or hybrid. By 2012, the Ford Focus will come with the choice of efficient gas, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric—all on the same production line. Honda globally will build gas, hybrid and EV versions of the Fit. Yes, there will always be a few drivetrain-specific models, but the big move is drivetrain flexibility: build the fuel-efficient technology that’s selling.

  3. SUV plants have been rebuilt for small cars.

    Since 2004, Detroit Three have closed 17 assembly plants that build pickups, SUVs and vans—removing millions of low-mileage vehicles from product roadmaps. Meanwhile, automakers have invested hundreds of millions into converting those plants—and building new ones—to build smaller cars (from crossover SUVs to compacts), as well as hybrid and electrics, and the batteries that make them run.

  4. Small cars are becoming profitable.

    As stated above, automakers have retooled for efficient high-volume production of smaller cars. At the same time, Detroit has a much better handle on overall production capacity and health care costs, which had baked in too much baseline cost in each vehicle. The marketing has shifted from powerful V8 engines, to smaller models with efficient turbocharged and direct injection engines smaller displacement (and lots of entertainment and connectivity features) that can command premiums from mainstream consumers.

  5. Automakers fully understand the long-term reality of higher fuel-efficiency standards.

    Detroit’s big investment in hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars is not a kind-hearted gesture to save the world. It’s a requirement from the government, which is mandating a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency between now and 2016, and an even bigger jump as we head toward 2025. “Are we going to stick with improving fuel efficiency? You don’t have a choice,” G.M.’s Akerson told the New York Times. “The government has told us what we have to do, and we will meet those goals.”

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  • DownUnder

    Point 5: A bit late. I’m glad that they’ve woken up after a looong time of making the gas guzzlers, although they’re forced to do so.

  • Pierre

    #5. Exactly. Too bad that the automakers in Detroit have to be hauled into thinking a greener, more fuel efficient future by the current administration.

  • JJJ

    The automakers havent woken up, theyre just being forced to change by new regulations.

    If Bush rules were still in place, we’d be hearing more about V8s and not Evs.

  • 32 mpg Toyota owner

    The Chinese and European fleets average 40 mpg. The Detroit fleet averages 25 mpg. The Model T Ford got 25 mpg. Detroit is not serious. Detroit does not offer fuel efficient 50 mpg Diesels. Detroit does not offer 60 mpg hybrids like the Honda Insight. Detroit does not offer wire to the wheel motor electric drive like the US military developed for combat vehicles. The last Detroit innovation was the cup holder.

  • Charles

    Dear 32 mpg Toyota owner,

    In the US nobody offers a 60 MPG hybrid car. In the US nobody offers a 50 MPG Diesel. Detroit like the Chinese, European and Japanese manufactures offer what people buy. Ford sold 391,219 F-150 pickup trucks last year. Toyota sold 140,928 Prius cars. If Ford stopped making the F-150 their share holders would and should sue them into oblivion. When we start buying more reasonable cars, Detroit will build them. What we need to do in the us is to change our road funding and other tax systems so that people want to drive efficient cars.

    BTW the last Detroit innovation I know of is the more efficient variable valve timing system used on some of the new Fords.

  • Anonymous

    – OMG. Some claim that the variable valve timing system is a ‘Detroit innovation’!

    – Ford has also given up the small car/CUV market by not innovating (witness the current Euro Focus) and blind itself thinking minor facelifts in 2005 and 2008 are good enough for Americans who want a fun, fuel efficient small car/CUV. Ford didn’t awaken until the arrival of its current CEO.

  • Charles

    Dear Anonymous,

    No, some claim that the new more efficient variable valve timing is a Detroit innovation.

    I do agree that Alan Mulally is the best thing to happen to Ford in a long time. Bill Ford was going down a similar path, but the BOD rebelled. It took an outsider like Mr. Mulally to push through the tough love that Ford needed. I hope that GM’s new outsiders can push GM in the right direction.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Charles, would you mind to disclose who made such ‘claim’?

  • Charles

    No problem Anonymous,

    Ford and BorgWarner* developed cam torque actuated variable valve timing. It was first used in the 2009 V6 Escape. It offers a more efficient way to move the valves in most of the RPM range of engines.

    For more information see:

    It may not be anything that people see, but it is innovation from Detroit.

    Personally I want to see two independent variable valve timing for the two input valves. This would allow a Otto cycle to act like a Atkinson when torque and/or power demands are low. The Atkinson cycle is up to 10% more efficient, but suffers from poor low RPM torque and lower peak HP and torque for the same displacement. Both Toyota and Ford use Atkinson cycle engines in their hybrids because the electric motor provides a great low speed torque boost.

    * BorgWarner is a Chicago company, not Detroit if that matters.

  • Anonymous

    Ford sold nearly twice as many light trucks as cars in 2010 in the United States!

    10.72% of Toyota’s sales in the U.S. are hybrid vehicles;
    Ford Motor: 1.83%;
    Honda: 2.73%.

  • Anonymous

    @Charles, from the article/blog from MT: “This Cam-Torque Actuated variable valve timing system ‘reportedly’ reduces oil-pump flow requirements by 25% relative to conventional VVT systems, for a ‘claimed’ fuel-economy boost of 0.4% on Ford’s 3.0L Duratec V-6-powered Fusion …”
    It seems, what MT wrote was based on information supplied to them, most probably from Ford press office. As there’s no independent verification of such claim, it’s difficult to tell whether Ford’s tech. of VVT is better than BMW’s Vanos, Toyota’s VVT-i, Honda ‘s i-VTEC or any other automaker’s variable valve tech.

    On a side note, I think what you’re looking for is quite similar to how Toyota’s VVT-i worked, from around year 2000, I believe. (re: 2000 Echo / 2003 Corolla, IIRC)

  • Charles
  • Charles

    I almost forgot about this study:

    A long read. It talks about patents, both quantity and quality. Detroit does rather well. Search for “The Golden Rule” to find the summary. The report is copyrighted so I am not going to quote from it.

  • Anonymous

    According to the C/D article you linked,
    1. it talks like the tech. was developed by BorgWarner, NO mention of Ford in the development;
    2. “advantages of the CTA system are that it responds quickly even at idle and can operate using a standard engine’s oil pump. But there are downsides. As engine speeds increase, the CTA system becomes less effective”, “[c]on­versely, OPA systems work better as oil pres­sure increases and are better at high rpm. So there’s not much of a peak power gain from a CTA system; it improves performance and efficiency in other areas of the rev range. Also, CTA cam phasing is at the mercy of the natural oscillations of those forces on the camshaft”
    It seems the CTA system used in Ford’s engine have both advantages and disadvantages when compared with an OPA system. There are trade offs involved. Seems to me it’s less suitable for high revolving engine application;
    3. it seems the advantage of CTA is mainly compared with an OPA system. I have no idea if Toyota’s VVT-i or Honda’s i-VTEC is OPA system.

    Like I stated in my original post, unless there is an independent verification that CTA is more efficient, I’ll leave it as unproven manufacturer’s claim.

  • Bob_C

    Innovation? Were talking about valves in terms of innovation??? Did anyone ever hear of THE VOLT?!? The first EREV in the world?? The car that just jumped over EVERYONE else in the world’s technology?? Maybe you know it as the just yesterday named 2011 North American Car of the Year by a panel of 39 independent journalists beating out the Leaf & Sonata. If you posted that Detroit does not innovate, then you shouldl embarassingly remember the Volt as the car you decreed Detroit Vaporware. Fess up & eat some crow with a side of humble pie!!

    To the author: you might have mentioned the Volt as well as GM’s plans to triple hybrid production & base future cars off the VOLTEC technology they innovated.

    To the website: “Volt Named 2011 North American Car of the Year”… ” in addition to winning that title from Motor Trend, Automotive Magazine & a few others.” Sounds like a hybrid cars top story to me. Get on the ball!!

  • Anonymous

    What? 2011 North American Car of the Year? Hurray….

    Wait. Can you remember which is 2007 North American Car of the Year? No? Let me remind you, it’s Saturn Aura, selected by those ‘experts’. What Saturn Aura, you ask? Sigh.

    During the best years of Saturn Aura, 2007 and 2008, it sold less than 60,000. The best selling mid-size sedan during that two years sold 473k and 437k respectively. Oh, customers are blinded?

    Where is Saturn Aura now? Where is Saturn now?

  • Anonymous

    What? 2011 North American Car of the Year? Hurray….

    Wait. Can you remember which is 2007 North American Car of the Year? No? Let me remind you, it’s Saturn Aura, selected by probably those same ‘experts’. What Saturn Aura, you ask? Sigh.

    During the best years of Saturn Aura, 2007 and 2008, it sold less than 60,000. The best selling mid-size sedan during that two years sold 473k and 437k respectively. Oh, customers are blinded?

    Where is Saturn Aura now? Where is Saturn now?

  • CMutt

    This probably won’t be well received, but… I think GM/Ford realized this a while ago & some are reluctant or slow to admit it. All #’s are 2010 stats from

    Cobalt – 25/37 (now replaced by the 42 mpg Cruze)
    Civic – 25/36
    Corolla – 26/35
    Sentra – 26/34

    Fusion: 23/34
    Malibu: 22/33
    Camry: 22/33
    Altima: 23/32
    Accord: 22/31

    Impala: 18/29
    Avalon: 19/28
    Taurus: 18/28

    Ranger: 22/27
    Tacoma: 20/26
    Colorado: 18/25
    Frontier: 19/23

    Silverado: 15/22
    F150: 15/21
    Tundra: 15/20
    Ram: 14/20

    1. Equinox: 22/32
    2. Tucson: 23/31
    3. Escape: 22/28
    4. Rav4: 22/28
    5. CR-V: 21/28

    1. Suburban/Tahoe: 15/21
    2. Expedition: 14/20
    3. Sequoia: 14/19
    4. Armada: 12/18

    1. Ford Flex: 18/24
    2. Highlander: 18/24
    3. Traverse: 17/24
    3. Pilot: 17/23

    So, other than having a flagship hybrid (Prius, Insight), how in the heck can a sight like this publish a “Detroit is changing” piece, insetad of a “Detroit leads in fuel economy in virtually every segment?” Geez — take another look at that list.. there is a Ford or GM vehicle in every segment.. and of course, a lot of that will change by next year w/ Hyundai’s latest offerings.. In terms of their bread and butter, everyday cars, Honda and Toyota have become complacent with fuel economy.

    And on those hybrids:

    1. Escape: 34/31
    2. RX 450h: 32/28

    1. Fusion: 41/36
    2. Altima: 35/33
    3. Camry: 33/34

  • Anonymous

    ‘ Is Volt the best car, really?

    At $41,000, the Volt is going to appeal to a splinter of a small segment of early-adopter greenies. And since GM’s claim that the Volt is a true electric car has been disproved, it basically should be judged as a Prius that costs twice as much. […]

    My suspicions go back to a comment I heard from a COTY juror a few years ago, when the Saturn Aura defeated the Honda Fit and Toyota Camry for top honors. I asked the juror — based in Detroit, of course — whether he thought the Aura really was the better car.

    His response, “No, but it’s the best car GM has ever made. It’s almost as good as the Camry.” ‘ (

  • Anonymous

    @CMutt, ” All #’s are 2010 stats from …”

    Excuse me. What year is it, today? Don’t look into the past, look at what ‘s happening around ‘now’.

    MY 2011 (all A/T)
    Chevy Malibu I4 22/33; V6 17/26
    Ford Fusion I4 22/30 or 23/33 ; V6 18/27
    Honda Accord I4 23/34; V6 20/30

    Seems the Detroit 2 have no apparent advantages.

    Chevy Cruze 22/35 or 24/36
    Ford Focus 25/34
    Honda Civic 25/36 (will be replaced in Spring, promises to go for 40 mpg or above)

    No apparent advantages, esp. for Cruze – a all-new design, when compared with some 5-year-old designs.

    Chevy Equinox I4 20/29; V6 16/22 (all AWD)
    Ford Escape 20/26
    Honda CR-V 21/27

    Note: the combined EPA rating for Equinox I4 AWD is 23 mpg, same as that of Honda CR-V.

    Chevy Traverse 16/23 (all AWD)
    Ford Flex 16/21 or 16/22
    Honda Pilot 16/22

    Hmm, seems the advantage of Traverse is not as great as some want you to believe. Shhhh, beware of those claims like: “40 mpg” – hwy rating only, how about city rating; or use the rating of FWD to ‘bait and switch’….

  • tapra1

    hybrid and EV versions of the Fit. Yes, there will always be a few drivetrain-specific models, but the big move is drivetrain flexibility: build the fuel-efficient technology that’s selling.Green News