A University of Michigan Auto Researcher says it’s possible to triple fuel economy of cars—without plugging them in.
In a new study released today, John DeCicco (who has been a contributor to this site) shows that optimizing internal combustion engines plus rising adoption of “grid-free hybrids” will enable new fleet efficiency to reach 52 MPG by 2025 and 74 MPG by 2035.
“To push efficiency really far, it means a lot more hybrids than previous studies have indicated,” DeCicco said, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “Hybrids are going to rule the world, that is, if we want to be serious about reducing oil use and greenhouse gases.”
DeCicco questions the prevailing wisdom of public support for cars that use energy from the grid. DeCicco, a senior lecturer at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, is apparently referring to plug-in cars when he advocates for avoiding “politically trendy breakthrough technologies” that will remain too expensive for most consumers. “If we really prioritize efficiency, we can get just as far with less sticker shock,” he said, in a press release issued by University of Michigan.
It’s a Policy Thing
“I’m not opposed to plugging in, but there’s no justification for massive subsidies,” DeCicco told us. “Let automakers and willing customers explore this on their own nickel. We ought to have policies that give us the biggest bang for the buck, and most efficiency can occur without plugging in.
DeCicco believes that electric cars have a role in play in the long run and perhaps in emerging markets—but they are not ideally suited to the U.S. landscape and marketplace.
His methodology was to model costs of various possible scenarios, drawing on work from M.I.T. and others. “My scenarios can be seen as pulling the rug out from the business case for plug-in cars.”
Again, the study is not a market forecast, but an assessment of realistic scenarios to cost-effectively achieve a tripling of fleet fuel economy by 2035. DeCicco points to the rise of fuel economy by nearly 70 percent after the 1970s energy crises as a precedent for potential change without revolutionary technology changes. In the study, he writes, “A tripling of new fleet fuel economy is an ambitious but defensible horizon for 2035.”
90-Percent Hybrid Scenario Is Feasible
The key, according to DeCicco, is cost effectiveness over the entire fleet. DeCicco calls for a “revolution by evolution” in cars that rely on internal combustion engines. He points to a range of technologies, including turbocharging, gasoline direct-injection engines, low-emissions diesels, lightweight steel, and most of all hybrids. Looking at historical adoption rates for technologies such as front-wheel-drive or fuel injection—which zoomed from introduction to dominance in a couple of decades, DeCicco believes it’s realistic for hybrids to make up as much as 90 percent of our cars in about 20 years.
It’s not surprising that DeCicco also calls for automakers to keep horsepower flat in the coming decades. “The fleet I’ve modeled for 2025 does not give up any of the performance and creature comforts consumers already enjoy,” he said. “You don’t have to go back to being Fred Flintstone, but you will see lower fuel costs instead of ever more mass and muscle.”
Download the study, “A Fuel Efficiency Horizon for U.S. Automobiles,” which was prepared for The Energy Foundation.