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U.S. market ready for fuel-saving stop-start technology

Aug. 13, 2012
Technology that shuts off engines in traffic coming to U.S. light-duty vehicles

Stop-start technology that shuts off the engine when a vehicle is stopped in traffic is headed to U.S. cars and light trucks from overseas, where the approach is already widely used to cut fuel use, according to the American Automobile Assn. (AAA). The association noted that Lux Research has forecast that over 8 million vehicles in North America will be equipped with engine stop-start systems within five years.

Among those vehicles will be pickup trucks, as it is expected truck makers will tap this rising technology to help them comply with upcoming federal GHG-reduction rules for light-duty vehicles.

Stop-start can be known elsewhere in the world as idle-elimination, idle-stop-go or micro-hybrid technology as well. While early versions of such systems date all the way back to the 1980s, now over 40% of new cars sold in Europe and Japan deploy this fuel-saving technology, said AAA.

“Engine stop-start isn’t a brand new technology, but the latest systems benefit from significant advances made in the last few years,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s director of automotive engineering & repair. “This technology is only going to gain momentum as vehicle manufactures work to meet the more stringent [U.S.] Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards set for 2016.”

So certain is AAA that stop-start technology is a wave of the near future, its recently formed Automotive Engineering Team, based at national HQ in Heathrow, FL,  has put together some “unbiased assessments and advice” on this not-so-new yet unfamiliar mpg-boosting technology:

  • “Stop-start technology automatically shuts off the engine when a driver is stuck in traffic or waiting for a red light to change. By doing so, the system can improve fuel economy up to 12% and contribute to a reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions.”
  • “With an automatic transmission, [stop-start] engine shutdown occurs when the vehicle is stopped for several seconds with the brake pedal applied. With a manual transmission, shutdown takes place with the transmission in neutral and the clutch released. As soon as the brake pedal is released, or the clutch pedal is depressed, the engine restarts automatically.”
  • On some vehicle models, the stop-start system will be standard equipment with its cost included in the vehicle price. If stop-start is offered optionally, it “generally” should cost “around $300.”
  • If gasoline is at $3.75/gal., it’s estimated that a vehicle that would “normally” get 20 mpg that’s driven 12,000 miles a year would save $167 a year in fuel if it was equipped with stop-start. Payback in this case would be less than two years.

AAA also pointed out that the use of stop-start already exists in the North American vehicle market. 

“All hybrid cars have stop-start capability, although they use a different technology than the systems on conventional powertrains,” pointed out Nielsen. “The first non-hybrid stop-start systems in the U.S. market are on 2012 ‘highline’ vehicles from BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. For the 2013 model year, Jaguar will join that select group, but stop-start systems will also become available on popularly priced models from Ford, Kia, and possibly others.

“Even trucks will start to see some systems,” he added, “with [Chrysler] adding stop-start to its [Pentastar] V6-powered Ram 1500 pickup for a one-mile-per-gallon fuel economy improvement.

While clearly excited about the promise of fuel savings from wider use of stop-start technology, AAA cautions that a “major challenge in developing stop-start systems has been engineering the systems to meet consumer expectations,” noted the association.

“The engine stop-start transitions must be smooth and seamless, and drivers new to the technology will need to learn that engine shutdown at idle is a normal thing and not a sign of a problem,” according to AAA. “In some vehicles, heating and air conditioning performance could suffer if the engine remains shut down for an extended time. Finally, the larger and more powerful batteries that are required for stop-start systems will be more expensive to replace when the time comes.”

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