Five Things Carmakers Will Never Do That Would Boost Gas Mileage

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2011 Volkswagen Nils concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

2011 Volkswagen Nils concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

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The auto industry gets plenty of attention for its environmental impact, but it's clear to see that fuel efficiency has made huge strides even in the last five years.

It could be even better, though.

Ultimately, a carmaker has to sell cars to survive--and it does that by creating products that people want, continually refining, and adding "more" of everything.

Below, we look at five things automakers will never do, which could really push efficiency to new levels.

1. Increase noise

Electric cars may put into context how much noise regular vehicles produce, but compared to their predecessors, all cars are pretty quiet.

That particularly applies at speed, where wind roar, tire noise and engine drone have all been minimized, to the point where even smaller cars can comfortably cover large distances. And they do so at speed--speeds which reduce gas mileage.

It wouldn't be popular, but removing sound-deadening material and introducing a bit more noise would encourage people to travel a little slower, where the sounds were more bearable--and all other things being equal, they'd save more gas at those lower speeds.

It would be incredibly simple and cheap to implement--but people like refinement, so don't expect cars to get noisier any time soon.

2. Reduce standard equipment

Even subcompacts come with navigation, climate control and leather seats these days, all of which add quite a bit of weight to the average car. In fact, they add loads. That's before you consider the electrical drain too, requiring an alternator to leech power from the engine in order to keep your radio tuned in.

We all know that reducing weight increases performance, improves handling and reduces fuel consumption--but how many people would really be prepared to sacrifice their creature comforts for a few extra mpg?

3. Radical aerodynamics

Remember the Aptera Type 2e? The teardrop-shaped, three-wheel pod was designed to have incredibly low aero drag.

Of course, it also looked a bit weird, which is more than enough to put off the majority of drivers. Even less extreme shapes, like the first-generation Honda Insight, are an acquired taste.

2000 Honda Insight

2000 Honda Insight

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Radical aero can work wonders for improving gas mileage, but it comes with compromizes. Looks, for one, and practicality for another--the subcompact-sized Insight was only a two-seater, a side-effect of making the car both aerodynamic and small.

Normal cars could get more radical to raise MPG--but for many, the cars may lack usability.

4. Tandem seating

How do you take aero another step further? By making the car as cigar-like and streamlined as possible.

We've actually seen this with several recent concepts, such as the Audi Urban Concepts and the Volkswagen Nils. The former had two, offset-tandem seats, the latter, only a single seat.

There's no doubt that such a product would suit a great many people--but again, customers like utility. A single-seat car may be great for five days of the week, and utterly useless for the other two. You may be wasting 3 or 4 seats on most journeys, but for many that's preferable to buying another car to cover your remaining tasks.

5. Delete gas-guzzling engines from the range

Want to meet those CAFE requirements a few years early?

Logically, the best thing to do would just be to stop making those big V-6 and V-8 engines entirely.

Except carmakers will never do that, as it would be commercial suicide. No carmaker will take the first step towards deleting models like that, lest their customers simply go elsewhere.

And if a company loses money from removing the products people want, then they certainly won't be producing any high-efficiency vehicles either...


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Comments (57)
  1. Tandem seating would be a date killer, how are you supposed to hold any sort of conversation? Bluetooth headsets or in car video? I'm sorry but I want to drive a nice car not some cigar shaped thing, we're not trying to win an Eco distance drive. In short, go electric who cares about MPGs.

  2. "how are you supposed to hold any sort of conversation?" sounds like an advantage to me :)

  3. Only if your a hermit or a nerd.

  4. @CDspeed: Note the smiley face. John is making a joke.

  5. Cdspeed is obviously not married...

  6. And I didn't think it was funny.

  7. Also I like long engaging conversations.

  8. As long as they don't follow #1 your should be able to hear and talk OK in a tandem. You are wrong to think electric solves all the worlds problems. Larger than necessary, non aerodynamic electric cars would still use more batteries and electricity than necessary.

  9. I disagree with electronics adding weight. A combo nav bluetooth stereo weighs no more than a stereo by itself. Auto climate control adds zero weight over manual knobs. Uprated stereo systems do add weight though, especially the amp, and good quality speakers have bigger heavier magnets. Electronic load is irrelevant as smart alternators are already common and getting much better.
    Not sure what you mean about carmakers not dropping V6/V8. You should probably change that sentence from "will never do that" to "are doing that right now". Hyundai has dropped V6 options for much of it's lineup and the new Rav4 also drops the V6. This will only continue.

  10. Rich - I was actually referring to ANY comfort and convenience features, rather than just the difference between, say, a flat-panel display for changing the temperature, and some knobs.

    Carmakers are unlikely to chuck out the A/C, stereo systems, electric gadgets and so-on, even if they have small economy benefits tied to them.

  11. AC systems actually save fuel, by allowing the occupants to keep the windows shut on hot days. Especially for low cd (highly aerodynamic) cars, openning windows at anything over about 35mph increases fuel use more than the AC.

  12. This could be resolved with good ventilation systems. I remember back in the day when I could open a vent window that would reduce the amount of wind coming in the car(reducing the wind resistance) or even open a leg vent that allowed a substantial amount of cool air to enter the cabin.

  13. @Brian: Opening any window on a modern car significantly increases the aerodynamic drag. You can check this simply by opening different combinations of windows above 50 mph or so (LF & RR, say). You'll find that most modern cars end up with fast air-pulse vibrations until you open all windows.

    They are very, very carefully engineered for airflow to slip over them as single, solid surfaces. Opening the window ruins that surface and increases drag--again, above 40 mph or so.

  14. As for the engines, I concur - there are some vehicles where the largest engines are being dropped - but perhaps I should have made myself more clear: In talking about the future economy targets, I was referring more to ditching popular large-engined models entirely.

    Much as it'd do their economy ratings no end of good, Chevy is unlikely to get rid of the Corvette. Ford is unlikely to ditch the F-Series. Chrysler isn't killing the Viper any time soon.

  15. The Corvette and Viper sell in minuscule volumes compared to bread and butter cars, and are built more for prestige. Cutting them wouldn't have much impact on CAFE. Besides, their fuel use is no more than an SUV or F-series pickup.

    Pickups are sometimes used for frivolous purposes, but many actually work.

    You must be a single urban dweller with no family or commercial activities. While I agree big SUVs are often bought just for show, for families, a larger car or van is an economical choice for family activites. And for workers a pickup truck is useful.

  16. Antony,
    So canning an elite flagship vehicle that gets parked in a collectors garage makes more sense then fixing something like a Jeep Wrangler, Chrysler's #1 production vehicle that gets 15-20 mpg with a crappy V6. Or Corvette that gets better than 25mpg instead of the Trailblazer that gets 17mpg.

    You're seriously confused.

  17. Rich - I disagree with your disagreement. Having taken apart more than my share of cars I can tell you that the Auto Climate control weighs substantially more than the vacuum operated knobs. Also more electronic draw requires a larger/heavier alternator (which causes more draw from the engine even with smart alternators) than the smaller alternators of old.

    Many companies are dropping some of the large engines, but they will not be getting rid of them completely anytime soon. Too many laborers need the hauling ability as well as the average executive that chooses to by a huge SUV for him, his spouse, and their two children because he might pull a camper, boat, or other such toys.

  18. 3 and 5 are the only options that could potentially happen at all. The others are not just going to be avoided because car companies are afraid of scaring off potential buyers (and they would) but some of it (ep. 1 and 2) have become part of hat shoppers expect and even enjoy from vehicles.

  19. Well you see some people actually have to work for a living and need a big vehicle with a big engine to work. Not everyone sits behind a desk and writes blogs for a living. I would like to see you haul a cord of firewood in your little tandem seat car like thingy!! Big engines and big vehicles will be around, and are around, because thats what the people want. So see ya on the road in your little tandem seat car thingy. Hope I dont run over ya. Might puncture my tire thats bigger than your car.

  20. What an idiotic, a-hole response from you tom. The author nor anyone else is suggesting to get rid of big vehicles that are needed for big jobs. Why are you so narrow minded to the idea of different vehicles for different people/uses?

  21. Yes, Tom, big engines and big vehicles will still exisit, of course. Unfortunately, as your idiotic post also confirms, small minds will also continue to exist...

    Thank you, Erik, I could not agree more.

  22. One more thing to add to the list: ditching the steel body passenger car. If we could switch over to carbon fiber reinforced plastic we could have lighter cars that were stronger in accidents and got better fuel mileage and handled better. I hope BMW pulls this off with their new small EV.

  23. It's a good suggestion Jim, but ditching steel bodies entirely, while not likely on a large scale for a long time, is actually something carmakers WOULD do to improve efficiency - as you've noted with the BMW i3 :)

  24. Between CF itself and CFRP, there's still work to do but progress is being made. We're already partially to lighter vehicles due to aluminum frames/components, increased use of plastics, etc... One doesn't have to be a fan of BMW to hope they make progress, since the progress will eventually trickle down for others as well, if the progress is substantial.

  25. "5. Delete gas-guzzling engines from the range"
    Gas guzzler tax for anything that gets less than the CAFE standard would fix that.

  26. While it may put off a few consumers, it'd still be unlikely to change the situation entirely.

    There will always be those who want or need such vehicles, and likewise there will always be those with the means to buy and run them!

    It might discourage the casual buyer but Chevy will keep selling those V8 Corvettes to buyers who really, really want a Corvette.

  27. The Vette is a speciality, low sales volume model...although the new Vette coming next year may sell more annually.

  28. It is indeed, though there are still some volume models sold with large engines - trucks specifically.

  29. Read the title; note the key-word: never. Re-evaluate your retarded statements, then post. Don't just post. Everything makes sense, and he has covered this beautifully. Rich-M; it is not just the face of a climate control, the buttons and electric units DO weigh more because they are ELECTRIC not STATIC PLASTIC. Mate you sound like a 14 year old trying to troll this site. Also a side-note, everybody knows V8's will never die, Nissans V6's (r35, r36)will not die but a lot of other V6's like family car ones will and I strongly suggest so, too. Good write Antony.

  30. Never is a long time and it is foolish to state that a business industry will always install this or that size component forever.

    How 'bout this: I bet by 2030 the V-6 will be even more rare then the v-8 is now in new passenger vehicle lineups.

    Slowly but surely the electrification of passenger vehicles is happening n by 2030 full hybrids n EVs will likely by the majority of new passenger vehicles sold in the US.

  31. Daniel, Erik - thanks for your comments.

    It is perhaps worthy of a reminder that we do *sometimes* use artistic license with words like "never", since "probably never" or "might not" don't really grab attention in the same way ;)

    I do believe that most of my points are fairly solid, though it's not beyond the realms of possibility that I might be proven wrong some time in the future :)

  32. Volvo will have only four cylinder engines with turbocharging and hybrid assist starting in 2014 from what I've read online. They will be discontinuing all V6's, even on crossovers. There is hope.

  33. I'll give you the trend to smaller engines. Ford is taking the same approach, turbocharging 4 and even 3 cyl engines to take the place of v6 and v8s. Mazda is taking a more high tech direction, increasing the compression ratio, going direct injection, reducing component weight in engine and chassis, and increasing tranny ratios.

    But the hope that electric will take over will be a long time coming, if ever. For one, it's not that efficient, since batteries store energy much less densely than fossil fuels and are thus inefficient. Then you have the recharge time problem and lack of recharging infrastructure. Finally, you have the battery cost and limited lifetime, which ruines the economics of vehicles, centered on resale values.

  34. I really do wish they would cut out much of what isn't required to move a car. Most of us carry around a GPS Navigation system, radio etc in our pocket. The last thing I need in a car is a duplicate set, that becomes out of date a year after I drive it off the lot.
    Would love to see some simple cars with the bare necessities that allow the owner to add what they need or just plug in. We're getting to the point where every car needs its own data plan as well as gas to move.

  35. Car add those "features" NOT b/c buyers "need" them. They add them b/c buyers are willing to pay for them and they are among some of the HIGHEST PROFIT generating "options" on the car.

  36. Replacing windows/glass with plexiglass might save some weight too... But automakers won't do it.

    Replacing steel with Ti-Alloy will do it too but it will increase cost significantly.

    But to be fair, automakers are already doing some of that stuff on "hybrids" to save gas. Fuel efficient tires (sacrificing performance), smaller engine with Atkinson cycle engine (Performance), less features (weight), better aerodyanmic (lower clearance), ugly shape (lower drag)...etc

  37. If you want to raise the amount of higher efficiency vehicles on the road, tailor the vehicles to the needs of the drivers, not the other way around. I drive a 2012 Dodge Charger (V6/8-speed auto) that I love. It's a full-sized car but it gets 31mpg hwy. I live 150 miles from work and usually average 32+ mpg. Fuel economy was not a buying motive AT ALL, however, Dodge built a car that suited my needs/wants AND got good MPG (for it's class) so I bought. Suite the vehicle to the customer, not vice-versa.

  38. 32 miles per gallon is not good gas mileage in 2013, maybe in 1990.

  39. Aerodynamic cars are actually bigger than today's square cars. Removing open wheel wells, adding a taper at the back, and smoothing things out is the low cost method that some of us are waiting for. Aerodynamic improvements increase top speed, acceleration, range and efficiency. A government mandated low coefficient of drag would force the change in tastes on the public that would benefit the national welfare.

  40. I'd add less-than-four-wheel cars. As you mentioned with the Aptera, it just looks too odd. The fourth wheel adds weight and an axle that don't really need to be there. One could even imagine a two-wheel car, either side-by-side like the Segway or in a line like a motorcycle. Stabilize it at rest with automatic kickstands and in motion with dynamic wheel control. That would save more weight again, but few would get in it.

  41. "The auto industry gets plenty of attention for its environmental impact"

    The wackos at this site just LOVE cars that are cramped, slow, that you have to plug into a wall. But have they even considered the fact, yes fact, that that transfers the burning of fuels to the power company, who BURNS THE FUEL THE CAR would BURN OR MORE, which they can't see that that does nothing to reduce burning something for energy? This whole "green" thing is a sham.

  42. @Redraider: Greetings from the head "wacko at this site"! I'm also known as the editor.

    If you knew as much as you imply about transportation energy use, you'd know there are extensive studies of the carbon profile of traveling on grid power versus that of burning gasoline. In fact, we've covered the topic repeatedly on this very site.

    I'm not going to explain it to you here. But the bottom line is that using grid power is ALWAYS greener than burning gasoline in a 25-mpg car. And that's even in the dirtiest states whose grids are > 90 percent coal.

    But you knew that, right, even though your post indicates the opposite? Or are scientific studies + facts just too irritating + confusing?

  43. I would absolutely love so have a small two seat roadster or coupe for daily travel ( high gas milage) that was great looking and minimal options. Good heater, wipers, radio, usable horn, manual windows. Manual head light switche. I still remember how to open the trunk with a key. Push button door locks. A/c as an option. Where I live, it's rarely used. Plastic pullout cup holders work fine. Light weight wheels, etc. For a commuter car with really great gas milage, this would be just fine. Plus this would keep insurance to a minimum.

  44. Gary sounds like you need a classic sports car, you would also enjoy it appreciating in value instead of loosing money for you. Only down side would be maintenance,spare parts and they pollute more.

  45. that would be my 2000 honda insight. just like the one in the picture, except silver. it has electric everything except seats. two cup holders! one for each seat. a huge rear storage shelf and a very large hidden storage area under that. i end up having to turn either the heater or a/c to minimum after a while. i average 76 mpg, with a 55 mile round trip to work. on the weekends the wife and i drive her minivan for errands, kid and dog hauling, etc.

  46. Hey here is a radical Idea, How about we just get rid of the CAFE requirements and the EPA... Of course you all would have to find something else to cry over in your latte but that would be your problem..

  47. This has got to be one of the biggest piles of fertilizer I have read in years. First of all the luxury additions like climate control don't add lots of weight just some lines of code and cut off switches. Same as GPS etc. 2 seat "cars" are among the least efficient vehicles built and not very useful except for those who would never have cause to have friends come with them on a trip, unless you don't have any friends. More noise makes you drive slower?!?!?! You appear to be a blithering idiot especially when it comes to young people especially males. Please double your dose of whatever it is you are on and maybe you could start sharing some of it 'cause that is some good stuff you got a hold of.

  48. Removing soundproffing would almost certainly mean removing insulation so the A/C would have to work harder. Solid state radios of today don't draw much power.I can't tell you how often I've have left the radio on all night and come morning the car turns on right away and gauges say all is normal.Several thing not covered that would increase gas milage would be increasing tire pressure. This may mean uneven tire ware and easy up on the gas pedal foot. I want a big V-8 because I like to tow things, like a boat or trailer.

  49. Cadillac (General Motors) currently markets the ATS with noise cancelling technology that permitted the reduction of insulation - specifically sound deadening materials - that played a role in overall mass reduction of the vehicle. On the point of substituting a material for commodities with a glass composition, all manufactures are currently planning to employ the use of polycarbonate or LEXAN materials for non-structural fixed glass positions in the near future. The majority of all headlamps and tail-lamps have used this material for years. I would state as many others here have - the author is not familiar enough with the subject matter. At best, he needs to preface his statements with “"I THINK" these are five things....”

  50. How about letting us buy Diesels? The Diesel Dodge Avenger gets 56 mpg and as told by the European press more fun to drive. The Chrysler Town & Country minivan gets 40 mpg with the diesel. We make them here in the US, but we can't buy them. I am sure that Ford & GM have models in Europe that are similar, but the EPA won't let us buy them as then there would be too many diesels in the US and the oil companies wouldn't make enough money

  51. Using grid power may be "greener" but the grid couldn't handle all or even 20% of us using it to power our cars. It has problems in some areas handling a really hot day. On the other hand, it would require the power companies to build more nuclear power plants which would be good for me.

  52. @Pete: While there will be localized issues, the amount of grid electricity that will be used to power plug-in vehicles (most of which will be charged overnight) will be FAR less disruptive than the arrival of cheap home air conditioners during the 1960s and 1970s throughout the hot, humid parts of the country.

    The EPRI-NRDC study of 2007 projected that even if two-thirds of ALL vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. today were suddenly to be powered from the grid, it would add only 8 percent to total demand--and we won't reach that level for decades, if ever.

  53. I drive an older, V8, mid-sized, pickup (4wd, too.) I'm not likely to change vehicles soon, and, if I did, it most certainly wouldn't be a new vehicle--the finances wouldn't support that.

    You know what would really help? In this day of smart everything, why can't the cities get the traffic signals synched so that we don't have to stop every 1/2 to 3/4 mile? And lower the speed limits out on the Interstates to a more reasonable 65 & enforce it!

    Raising gas taxes, carbon taxes, useage fees, etc. is regressive & inflationary. 'Twould be nice if we tried everything else before we transferred more penalty to the low income folks just barely making it now.

  54. Increasing noise in a car as a means to encourage people to slow down? I disagree. I have driven some seriously old clunkers and noise is not a deterrent.
    I would agree in reducing standard equipment not only for fuel savings but to save on the sticker price of new cars as well. People won't buy the newer, more fuel efficient cars if they cannot afford them.
    I think it would be a mistake to eliminate V6 and V8 engines entirely. There are things a four banger simply can't do well, or even at all. In addition, if you need the interior space (like my family of six), it takes more engine to move a larger vehicle.
    Why aren't we taking advantage of the diesel technology out there? The Europeans are kicking our butt in fuel efficiency with it.

  55. I agree with #2 - reduce standard equipment. I'm not sure the auto industry would go for it because this has been their bread and butter for the last 5 years. It would have to be across the board to balance competitive advantage.

    I partially agree and disagree with #5. Some V6 and V8 actually get equal mileage compared to 4 cylinder cars. My 2.7 V6 gets better mileage than the 4 cylinder Pontiac I just traded. Highway - 34 mpg, combined - 28, City - 23. If I drive like an a-hole, the mileage goes down considerably.

    On the other hand I agree that many of the V8's and Hemi's out there are for status only.

    #1 is just silly. Why not just make a car vibrate or lose a tire over 55 while your at it?

  56. most of these so-called improvements take something away from the car and it useability
    I live up north I need a car that can hold a whole family with a carseat and a week worth of food with the heater going while driving thru 8 inches of snow
    so which electric car can do that ?

  57. 1 2 4 and 5 are ridicules!

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