Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Doubling Vehicle Fuel Economy by 2035

A rather interesting energy article appeared in Vol 1 of "Energy Futures, MIT Energy Initiative." I come to this article with a point of view based on personal experience driving energy efficient cars: In 1980 I was driving a Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel, getting 60 mpg at 60 mph. I have read about new European engines that allow 80 miles per gallon and wonder why such engines are perhaps not available or perhaps even common in the United States. (Simple answer: it is political.) My wife and I currently drive a Honda Hybrid and a Prius hybrid, both burning gas at 42-60+ mpg, depending on the season and the circumstances of driving. I have also noted that Toyota made the commitment to hybridize its entire line a couple years ago. So why is there such an issue about it within the United States. It would seem that it is easy to read the writing on the wall and get moving as a sheer matter of competitive survival.

Since some of my comments on this summary of Heywood (et al) will push in the direction of change, I should also comment that I know John Heywood to some degree and have great respect for him. I embrace almost all of what is in the research results. There is some with which I, in a sense, disagree. I think he knows more than I do about how the automotive industry actually works, something that makes his paper excellent. On the other hand, I have some definite notions about how organizations can be designed and managed to be leaner, more efficient, more flexible, more effective. That is the way that I run organizations and parts of organizations. So when my comments differ with those of John's team, it is likely that the differences reflect those views.

The results of this paper are heavily dependent on the quality of AVL's ADVISOR (see http://www.avl.com/ about this software package), which was originally developed by NREL and then handed over to AVL for commercialization. AVL says this about the program:

ADVISOR is designed for rapid analysis of the performance and fuel economy
of conventional and advanced, light and heavy-duty vehicle models as well as
hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicle models. It tests the effect of parameter changes
in vehicle components (such as motors, batteries, catalytic converters, climate
control systems, and alternative fuels) and other modifications that might
affect fuel economy, performance or emissions.

  • Reduces testing time to evaluate various vehicle powertrain alternatives

  • Estimates the fuel economy of vehicles that have not yet been built

  • Compares relative tailpipe emissions produced during various drive cycles

  • Shows how conventional, advanced, light, and heavy vehicles use, and
    lose, energy throughout their drivetrains

The article mentions human behavior, but only in the sense of a change in what people will buy. There is much more behavior that is relevant. A key area is how people drive. A woman stopped to get directions from me near Central Square near MIT, and we got into a discussion of why she got very ordinary mileage in her Prius. Very quickly the discussion evolved into my explaining to her how to change her driving habits so that the Prius would get outstanding mileage. For example, I almost never accelerate while going uphill. I use cruise control whenever my car is fundamentally traveling on flat ground, because the car's systems are much better at minimizing gas use than my foot and brain are, no matter how I try. However, I never use cruise control when going up even a moderate hill, because it wants to downshift and accelerate in that situation.

There are many additional examples of the importance of psychology and behavior in regard to driving and purchasing vehicles. The above is only a start.

Heywood et al identify changes in powertrains as a key part of the transition to more efficient vehicles in 2035. Using recent adoption rates for powertrains in Europe and the United States, they conclude that 2035 will see 85% conversion in new vehicles to more efficienct powertrains such as hybrid, diesel, and turbocharged gasoline. This is an example of my thesis that normal adoption processes and rates are insufficient for mankind's transition to avoid serious impacts from global warming. We need to achieve substantially 100% of all operable vehicles with innovative powertrains by 2035. Heywood et al also discuss means to achieve weight and size reduction of vehicles. Yet much more can be achieved and sooner than 2035 if there is the will to do so. Amory Lovins (http://www.rmi.org/) last year proposed an extremely lightweight approach based on composites. It may be that the modeling program does not support such extreme weight reduction approaches.

This chart is a very powerful tool. It is worth taking some time to understand it.

It would seem to me that a more aggressive target for mileage and carbon footprint could readily be achieved if we were serious. When we as a society get serious about this kind of thing, the targets will become much more aggressive, and we will attain them much more rapidly that we currently think we can.

Right now, the work that can be done is biased by the ADVISOR model and its assumptions, which is based on recent practice in the automotive industry.

It seems at face value unreasonable to me that the factor of two target will cost manufacturers $50 - $65 billion in the 2035 model alone. Is this Detroit lining up again to block progress and to argue for more government doles, doles that the Japanese manufacturers seem to invest in as a matter of competitive opportunism? This seems more manageable when Heywood characterizes it as a 20% increase over business as usual. It also seems more manageable when one realizes that there are perhaps 5-10 manufacturers, so that the total is distributed over all of them, yielding a cost of $5-$13 billion on average for each, most of that being a normal cost of the evolution of models.

The issue is whether this is based on a business-as-usual model, or rather on a leaner, more directed model. About two years ago I witnessed a business plan presentation by a former manager for one of the auto companies. I was flabbergasted at the expense in his plan. I was flabbergasted at the salaries this particular startup was paying its managers. I recognized that this probably reflected the logic and values of Detroit. I suspect the above cost projections reflect similar logic and values. I suspect they also reflect the costs of a highly complex, bureaucratic organization that has been somewhat dysfunctional for many years. We need to find ways to make our organizations leaner, more efficient, more effective. Thankfully, there are other people who also recognize this. There is a lean manufacturing initiative a MIT addressing these and many other critical questions.


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