On November 16, 2011, President Obama and his administration made a bold announcement: The EPA and Department of Transportation reached a deal with all of the top U.S. based automakers (including Ford, GM, and Chrysler) where the annual mileage improvements will be 5% for cars in 2017. But, here’s the biggie: by 2025, these same U.S. automakers will reach a total fleet average of 54.5 mpg! This is astounding when the current average is 27.5 mpg. Doubling the average fuel economy in 14 years is a bold step indeed.
Big problems require big solutions!
So why did the big automakers agree to such changes? On the cynical side, it could be that the big automakers already had technology that made such a commitment feasible. Or it was payback for Obama bailing out GM and Chrysler? Or that the potentially explosive EV technology could supplant the internal combustion engine?
In any event, the requirement will be a boon to automotive engineers and suppliers all trying to wring out increases in mpg from new gasoline powered cars. It will also be a golden opportunity for start-ups that have real solutions to improve fuel efficiency.
A review of issued and pending applications suggests that there are various approaches to fuel efficiency. These include 1) improvements to fuel cell systems (e.g., Honda’s U.S. Patent 7,976,990 “High Efficiency Fuel Cell System”); 2) better diagnostics to calculate fuel inefficiencies/power loss (e.g., GM’s U.S. Patent 8,014,938 “Fuel Efficiency Determination for an Engine”); 3) fuel additives (e.g., ExxonMobile’s U.S. Patent 7,989,408 “Fuel Economy Lubrication Composition”); and 4) methods/tools directed as the driver to teach better fuel economizing driving habits (e.g., Honda’s U.S. Published Patent Application 2011/0205043 “Apparatus for Promoting Improvement of Driving Skill to Improve Fuel Efficiency”).
While much of the R+D in the fuel efficiency area is being developed by large corporations, that doesn’t mean that start ups are pushed out of the action. In our own Puget Sound area, there are signs that local companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of this new fuel efficiency challenge and opportunity. Airbiquity of Seattle now has a green vehicle technology division with a focus on improved fuel efficiency for both EV’s and internal combustion engines, particularly fuel consumption management. PlasmaDrive of Bellevue just received a series of patents pertaining to “System for Improving the Fuel Efficiency of an Engine” (see e.g., U.S. Patent 7,934,489 that issued on May 3, 2011). These businesses, and others like them, are good for making our environment a greener place as well as bringing $green to the region.