Oct. 8, 2007
The quest to improve the energy-efficiency of our cars almost always focuses on individual models and energy technologies—a horse race between that hybrid and this diesel, that electric vehicle and this hydrogen fuel cell car, and so on.
Most major car companies are engaged in a tit-for-tat competition for headlines and homepages featuring their latest whiz-bang concept car. Meanwhile, Nissan is taking a much longer-term approach by looking beyond the technology under the hood—to the technology that exists between cars, roads, highway systems, and satellites.
Last week, company executives were talking again about their work on vehicle communications systems that promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2050. Four decades is certainly a long time, but given current trends, the number of cars on global roads in mid-century could exceed two billion. A report "Looking to the Future," issued earlier this year from the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association, calls for less than half of transportation-related carbon reductions to come from vehicle technologies, while “52 percent is to be achieved through improved road infrastructure and better traffic management.”
IT to the Rescue
In 2004, Nissan launched an “eco-driving project,” in which vehicles were installed with system to detect sudden accelerations, abrupt slowdowns, harsh braking and idling—and calling the driver’s attention to these problems via a computer-generated voice and dashboard display. In 2005, the company announced CARWINGS, its telematics system available only in Japan at the time, and now available with the Altima and Infiniti G35 in the United States. In mid-2007, new features were added to the CARWINGS service to show instant and average fuel efficiency on the dash, and the ability to upload the data to a personal computer, where fuel efficiency can be compared online with other CARWINGS members. Drivers can also track their fuel efficiency improvements over time.
Nissan plans to equip all future new models with an enhanced fuel efficiency gauge to give drivers more information on how their driving style directly relates to fuel economy.
The most valuable part the system, in terms of the environment, may be an application being currently tested on taxis in Beijing. Current traffic data is gathered by sensors in other cars on the road. That data is fed back to vehicles so drivers can avoid traffic jams. Nissan reported that drivers using these applications were on the road 20 percent less than other cabs traveling on similar routes—suggesting that even the most advanced vehicle technologies consume more energy than entire systems which help drivers to drive less.