As a Brit, working for a German powertrain design consultancy and servicing the US auto industry, i`m intrigued about many things in the American auto industry. It took me 6 years to finally realize that at the end of the day, irrespective of whats right and whats wrong, it simply boils down to money, profits and the continuous manipulation of the market to maximize the former two.

1. Gas in Europe is currently $9.00 a gal (4.2 liters) equivalent to about $7.50 a gal in the USA (3.8 liters). Imagine that filling your tank here suddenly goes from $60 to $200. But, Europe has 300 million vehicles on the road - same as the USA. Europe also has a strong, vibrant and booming economy. I keep hearing American concerns that a rise in gas prices will kill the economy and hurt the poor. Of course it would if done rapidly over say, a 5 year period. It took Europe 30 years to get to this position, underpinned by the fright of the 1970's oil crisis (which incidentally, made Brazil go fully independant onto their own Bio Fuels and Ethanol), various Euro Federal governments have successively and increasingly taxed fuel at the pump. The direct result: Through public demand, Incredible fuel economy was engineered into cars and vans, virtually no large SUVs or pickups exist, and there is massive state and Federal investment into a public transport infrastructure. Believe me, Europe is far more densely populated than America but our cities and suburbs boast some of the worlds best rapid transit systems......

2. For US auto makers to put fuel efficient engines into vehicles it requires a lot to happen over here. The big 3 always complain that doing this would force them to have to re-tool engine plants which they can`t afford and it would kill jobs. Good powerful political smoke and mirrors argument. These guys re-tool entire plants on an annual basis every time they produce a new vehicle line. Changing tooling for engines is i assure you, a drop in the ocean compared to changing tooling for a whole new vehicle line.

3. The fastest way to fuel efficiency is to do two things: improve the efficiency of the combustion process in the cylinder and to tailor that combustion process to better suit the driving habits of the vehicle owner and the local emissions laws. That equals the need for Direct fuel Injection under computer control, off a common rail fuel system. That equals Diesel or Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) where combustion and each multi-stage injection cycle can be exquisitely controlled to perfectly match driving conditions whilst keeping source-emissions low. Couple all of that to a high efficiency gearbox (an auto is about 89% and a manual-stick about 93% efficient) and a well designed aerodynamic, small sized vehicle and hey presto, you start to equal what European cars have been doing for 10 years now. Some 55% of Euro vehicles are Diesel powered (highly efficient engines) and nearly all vehicles have a stick shift gearbox. We expect to buy small Diesel cars giving us about 65 mpg (US gal) and family cars giving us about 55 mpg (US gal). Where do you get that in the States? Would you like that in the US? Then start to demand it by purchasing the more fuel efficient vehicles with best economy which will in-turn, bend the auto makers into doing something about it on a mass production basis.

4. Hybrids are always an interesting topic. If you commute to work and back along the freeway at relatively constant speeds, then from a money point of view a hybrid is a waste of your cash. First of all, hybrids have a significant price premium on the dealer lot. Lets assume an $18,000 standard car has a hybrid equivalent at about $21,500. Lets assume with your daily commute in your hybrid, at best you save a few liters of fuel every week. It takes the average American 5 to 8 years to re-coup the additional cost of the hybrid through fuel savings alone (tax incentives are dwindling). Yes, they are an awesome idea but never lose site of the whole principal being one of energy recovery during braking and coasting down hill. In other words, the optimal hybrid drive cycle requires a lot more stopping and starting than that of a conventionally engined vehicle. Hybrids are especially well suited to Taxis, Garbage trucks, Military vehicles, City delivery vehicles and anything else doing a lot of stopping and starting. For the average American commuter, the decision to buy a gasoline hybrid has to be more of an emotional one.

4. The topic of emissions is an interesting one. In item 3, I talked about source-emissions. That is the control of the combustion process in the cylinder so that parameters like engine torque are optimized against Particulates (PM) and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx). Nowdays, we are very good at achieving that balanced optimization but we can only do it using a Direct Fuel Injection engine like a Diesel or a GDI where we have excellent control of the 15 to 20 engine and fuel parameters affecting source-emissions. It does mean we can work to reduce the cost-complexity of the expensive "scrubbing" after treatment systems in your exhaust pipe. Much of the expense is because of the precious metals loaded into the catalyst matrixcies in your Diesel Oxidizing catalyst or your deNOx system. We also have the problem of educating car buyers that these exhaust technologies are safe, will become less expensive as production volumes increase, and present minimal disruption to your vehicle ownership. We all go and get our screen wash filled or topped off at our dealer or local oil change place. So, they can do the same with the Urea you have in the urea tank in your future vehicle. Chryslers Ad Blue system to remove NOx out of your exhaust gases (by as much as 99% of it!) is clean, safe, efficient and as easy to handle as coolant or screenwash. Our job is to make the infrastructure of these systems as simple and as cheap as possible for you, the consumer.

So, a bunch of interesting topics about which I`m really passionate. Please give me feedback about these items.


Tom Reedy