2012 Kia Rio SXEnlarge Photo
According to a recent study by Pike Research, the fuel-saving technology which will be most prevalent in green cars by 2015 isn’t the current offering of hybrid drivetrains, fully electric cars or even hyper-efficient, four-cylinder engines, but stop-start technology.
But will it really catch on as quickly as Pike Research says it will, and will the U.S. ever really embrace this cheap way to save fuel?
As we told you yesterday, consumers are more interested in fuel economy and gas mileage than ever before -- and automakers know it. In response, they are working hard to produce a wide range of cars that produce as little tailpipe emissions and get as good a gas mileage as possible.
Although hybrid and electric drivetrains have the biggest impact on emissions from a single car, the lower cost of developing and implementing stop-start technology means that more car buyers are likely to embrace the technology, meaning a larger overall emissions reduction across thousands, or millions of cars.
What is it?
Simply put, stop-start (or start-stop) works by cutting off the engine when a driver brakes below a certain speed or stops the car altogether. Then, when the foot is lifted from the brake pedal and onto the accelerator, a high-power alternator or motor spins the engine back up to speed, restarting the engine and allowing the driver to pull away.
Much like hybrid drivetrains, this means cars with stop-start technology do not idle in stationary traffic after reaching optimum operating temperature, saving both fuel and tailpipe emissions.
Volkswagen Golf Mark VI to feature stop-start techEnlarge Photo
Is it really coming?
As we’ve said last year, the U.S. hasn’t been particularly quick to adopt start-stop technology in the past, with the technology historically occupying a space reserved for luxury, premium and hybrid vehicles.
But this year we’ve seen the first examples of compact and even sub-compact cars adopting stop-start technology, showing that the technology has a place in cars often aimed at cash-strapped and fuel-conscious younger buyers.
In fact, although Detroit isn’t particularly happy about the latest high-mileage fleet-wide economy targets set by the Federal Government, it now views start-stop technology as a cheap way to get improve fuel consumption.
In it’s most basic form, stop-start technology is cheap
Because of the relative simplicity behind the most basic stop start system -- essentially replacing the starter motor and alternator with an uprated motor/generator and adding some extra computer control circuitry -- start stop systems are much cheaper to produce than a full-blown hybrid drivetrain.
In fact, in Europe, where 3 million stop-start cars were sold in 2011 to date, many automakers sell stop start as an option on everything from Smart Cars through to SUVs as a way of increasing fuel efficiency without having to design brand-new, complex hybrid drivetrains.
It’s that success in Europe, combined with the cost of developing the systems that explain why Pike Research -- and even parts of the auto industry -- are predicting a healthy future for stop-start systems.
Smart Fortwo to get stop-start technologyEnlarge Photo
A long way to go
In 2012, Pike Research says that only 1% of all cars sold in the U.S. will include stop-start technology. Three years later, it predicts that 25% of all new cars in the U.S. will feature the technology. Globally, it predicts that 25 million cars will be sold in 2017 which use the technology, versus just a few million hybrid cars.
But while the U.S. is starting to gain interest in the technology, it is still the slowest adopter of start-stop worldwide when compared with Europe’s already healthy stop-start sales and the burgeoning interest from the Asia Pacific regions.
Will stop-start play as important a role as Pike Research predicts? Possibly, but only if automakers can refine the technology to make it less jerky than some of the current offerings on the market.