On Nov. 12, 2010, we ran a story about the fuel-saving technology known as stop-start or micro-hybrids. The article read: “There are virtually zero micro-hybrids currently on U.S. roads, mostly because the technology is dismissed in favor of sexier alternatives, like electric cars…[but] the reluctance to shift to micro-hybrids could turn around very quickly. The micro-hybrid technology is completely proven and ready to roll.”
Six weeks later, Ford announced this week that it plans to introduce its stop-start technology—which it calls Auto Start-Stop and others call stop-start or micro-hybrid—to its global vehicle line beginning with next year’s models. Use whatever name you like for the technology, but it means the same thing: the beginning of the end of vehicle’s wastefully idling—burning fuel and spewing emissions at a traffic light or while waiting in a line. The stop-start system automatically shuts down the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop; the engine automatically restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal.
Small Ideas Take On Big Ideas
Ford’s announcement follows the news that the company plans to spread its Eco-Boost fuel-efficient strategy throughout its vehicle line-up. While the “big idea” of plug-in vehicles dominates much of the automotive discussion, Ford is becoming known as the proponent of “small ideas” that are likely to end up having more positive impact on the country’s oil consumption and emissions than those other headline-grabbing vehicles.
The impact of the nearly 3 million micro-hybrids already on European roads —if estimated to improve fuel economy by 10 percent—provide reductions in carbon emissions equal to hundreds of thousands of grid-connected vehicles, according to Jacob Grose, senior Analyst at Lux Research. The most affordable micro-hybrids can cost as little as $300 and provide a 2 – 5 percent improvement in fuel economy, while the most robust micro-hybrids can cost $1,000 to $1,500 while providing a 10 to 15 efficiency gain. The cars use affordable lead-acid batteries and ultracapacitors for energy storage, rather than the pricey nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries found in hybrids and EVs.
Ford’s Auto Start-Stop will be deployed first on Eco-Boost models featuring direct-injection systems and electric water pumps. Direct injection allows a quicker engine start and the electric water pump keeps the engine’s coolant circulating even when the engine is off. Auto Start-Stop also includes a stronger starter-motor, an upgraded ring gear on the engine’s flywheel and an 12-volt battery engineered for deeper discharge and charge cycles.
The company already features stop-start on its hybrid models—170,000 sold so far on Ford Escapes and Fusions and sister vehicles—but these new applications should quickly increase the technology’s rollout into the millions. Ford said it would apply the technology to all models—passenger cars, crossovers and SUVs—and expects drivers to achieve 4 to 10 percent gain in fuel economy.
Why Europe and Not Here? No reason.
As with many fuel-saving technologies, stop-start is another system already in widespread use in Europe on gasoline and diesel models, where it is predicted to be offered soon on virtually all models. “I think all the automakers are going to start bringing micro-hybrids to the U.S. starting in a couple years, and ramp up after that. As carbon targets start getting closer, there’s going to be a lot of push on industry to get those cars out,” Grose said. “It’s something they know how to do. They just have to reconfigure it for the American market, with relatively minor tweaks.”
We expect Hyundai to quickly follow on Ford’s heels. In April, Timothy White, Hyundai-Kia’s senior powertrain manager, said, “Start-stop will be a key part of our development activity in the next two product cycles,”