Fuel Cell Vehicles Move Above the Horizon with Partnerships

Mercedes B-Class FCVIn the past few weeks, a number of major automakers have upped the ante on fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) research by forming new partnerships and alliances to speed up the development of affordable vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Combining research will shorten the time it will take to develop fuel cell cars and should also help reduce the costs, which currently are very high.

Ford Motor Co., Renault-Nissan and Daimler Groups recently announced an alliance to share in developing affordable cars that can run on hydrogen by 2017. The plan is to develop a common fuel cell system that will reduce costs through scalability.

In another recent move, Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW Group said they will work together on fuel cells in addition to developing next-generation “lithium-air” batteries for green vehicles. Both companies also hope to introduce a new FCV by 2020. In fact, BMW will start to use Toyota’s drivetrain and hydrogen storage technology as soon as possible to complete a prototype model within the next three years. Toyota plans to start producing its first commercial models as early as 2015, according to Japan’s Nikkei, which also reports that the Japanese and South Korean markets are expected to drive demand for new FCVs. Continue reading ›

Small-Car Sales Rise Driven by Shift in Demand Since Recession

Mike VanNieuwkuyk

Small-car sales in the U.S. market are up by nearly 102,000 units in the first quarter of 2012 vs. the same period a year ago, based on our research. The increase in small-car sales, especially sub-compact deliveries, during the first quarter, may be a direct effect of several key market drivers coming together. Manufacturers’ advances in powertrain technology in addition to automakers enhancing feature content in smaller vehicles have appealed to consumers’ shifting needs. Continue reading ›

J.D. Power Roundtable: Synergy Between OEMs and Dealers Seems Stronger

Leslie Cocco

Coping with changing government regulations—such as increases in CAFÉ (corporate average fuel economy) standards—and adjusting and aligning OEM production and distribution with a declining number of dealer locations in the US market, were two topics on the minds of automaker and retailer executives during afternoon presentations and a panel discussion at our recent 1-day 2012 International Automotive Roundtable in Las Vegas, NV.

Volkswagen of America’s President and CEO Jon Browning touted VW’s global success, claiming that the company was the fastest-growing automaker in the US market in 2011. He attributed VW’s success largely to the company’s marketing efforts, which began with the launch of the new Jetta that is built in Nashville, TN, and continued to be propelled by VW’s popular Super Bowl commercials last Sunday. Browning said VW’s marketing strategy: “Telling human stories with a touch of humor” is a strategy that the company plans to use throughout 2012. In the spirit of the Super Bowl weekend, Browning also showed off some old and new Super Bowl TV commercials, which brought applause from the Roundtable audience. Continue reading ›

Reducing Vehicle Weights Helps Automakers Meet Fuel Economy Rules

Mike Omotoso

All the major auto manufacturers are making efforts to reduce weight in order to meet tighter CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards in the United States and to meet CO2 reduction targets in Western Europe.

Vehicle weight reduction in conjunction with powertrain improvements are the two main tools for improving fuel . . . Continue Reading Reducing Vehicle Weights Helps Automakers Meet Fuel Economy Rules

Ford and Toyota Hybrid System to Boost High-Volume Truck Fuel Economy

Mike Omotoso

This week, Ford and Toyota announced that they will work together to develop a hybrid powertrain system for rear-wheel-drive (RWD) light trucks (pickups) and SUVs that is slated to be ready later in the decade. A goal is to increase fuel efficiency and to meet higher CAFE rules. The two automakers say that collaborating on the project will help both companies create fuel-efficient hybrid systems faster and at lower cost.

Both Ford and Toyota have something to offer in the venture. Toyota brings over a decade of experience in hybrid research and development. The Japanese automaker has been selling the Toyota Prius since 1997 in Japan (since 2000 in the US), and currently installs hybrid systems in RWD vehicles such as the Lexus GS 450h and the LS 600h L. However, the automaker also needs to develop a more powerful hybrid system to remain competitive with its Toyota brand RWD pickup trucks and SUVs and Lexus SUVs

Partner Ford is moving away from NiMH (nickel-metal-hydride) batteries and toward Li-ion (lithium ion) batteries, and has developed the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ hybrids to have better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry hybrid. Ford also has the best-selling large pickup truck in America with the F-Series, so they can bring their expertise in pickups to the table as well. Continue reading ›

Concessions in New CAFE Proposal to Have Positive Impact

Kevin Riddell

The White House has made a couple of important concessions to automakers in the 2025 fuel economy proposal that doubles CAFE standards to 54.5 mpg. President Obama announced the revised proposal last Friday, July 29.

The first concession is that fleet fuel economy increases for light trucks and SUVs will rise at a slower pace than the requirements for cars during the first few years. Since trucks are generally much heavier than cars, it requires more adjustments to help them go further on a tank of gas. Two good examples are the Ford Edge midsize crossover and Ford Fusion midsize conventional sedan, which are both based on the same platform. However, with the V-6 powertrain option, the crossover’s curb weight is over 600 pounds higher than the car’s, making significant fuel economy gains much more difficult to achieve for the Edge.

Trucks continue to make up a high percentage of US new-car sales (50% of new light-vehicle sales through June 2011, according to our Automotive Forecasting Division’s analysis). This trend continues in the face of higher fuel prices and increases in the CAFE requirements over the last couple of years. Continue reading ›

Diesels to Help GM, Others Meet Stricter Fuel Economy Rules

Mike Omotoso

Recent news reports have indicated that General Motors has decided to sell a diesel version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car in the US market. Reportedly, the diesel powertrain will help boost Cruze fuel efficiency to 50 mpg on the highway, based on several wire service reports. In June, Chevrolet sold nearly 25,000 new Cruze compacts with conventional gasoline powertrains, and it was one of the best-selling models in the US market.

GM to Offer Clean Diesel Powertrain

We know that General Motors’ diesel engine will use a common-rail direct-injection system, and it will be a clean diesel. In fact, all diesel passenger cars sold in the United States must be clean diesel, and ultra-low sulfur diesel has been sold across the country since late 2006. As news reports suggest, it will be two or three years before a diesel version of the Cruze can be sold here because it has to be re-engineered to meet US emissions standards. Continue reading ›

CAFE Changes Boost Powertrain Efficiency Improvements

Kevin Riddell

Even though a 56.2-mpg CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) average in 2025 is not yet written in stone, automakers do realize that the national standards will continue to rise well into the next decade. As a result, we expect to continue seeing trends such as: engine displacement reduction; the increased use of direct injection and turbocharging; an increasing number of gears in automatic transmissions; and increasing hybridization from start-stop systems to dedicated electric vehicles (EVs), to name a few.

A few years ago, when the 35-mpg standard for 2016 was announced, it was generally thought that hybrids would begin to make up much more of automakers’ sales than they currently do. Cost continues to hinder the growth potential of this technology. As a result, between 2008 and 2010, the share of new hybrid sales has remained at around 2.5%, despite higher fuel prices during the past few years. The hybrid market is expected to grow, but the price of the technology will temper this increase over the next few years. Continue reading ›

Ford Boosts Fuel Efficiency in Car Models with New Smaller Engine

Ford Motor Company recently announced that it is working on a new small engine—a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder powertrain with its EcoBoost technology. This smaller, fuel-efficient engine may reach the US market later this year in 2012 model-year cars, or will arrive early next year. Ford claims it will deliver horsepower and torque output equivalent to or better than their naturally aspirated 1.6-liter gasoline engine.

Mike Omotoso

The engine is expected to be used in the Ford Fiesta sub-compact, and will possibly be offered as an entry-level engine in the newly redesigned Ford Focus. The Focus and the Fiesta are both selling well, but Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are getting tougher every year, and Ford and other manufacturers need to improve the fuel economy of all cars and trucks in their lineup to meet the higher miles-per-gallon requirements between now and 2016.

Downsizing of Powertrains Continues to Accelerate

In addition to Ford, other automakers have been downsizing their powertrains for the US market, and this trend will only accelerate in the future. The next-generation Chevrolet Malibu (2013 model year) will drop the V-6 option and the new Malibu will only be available with 4-cylinder engines. Continue reading ›

BMW Uses the “i” Sub-brand to Promote Cutting-Edge Technology

Mike Omotoso

BMW’s i sub-brand will be the next phase of BMW’s electric vehicle development. We do expect this sub-brand to be brought to the US in 2013 or 2014. The US is one of the leading markets for electric vehicles (EVs), and along with Western Europe will be a target market for the i3 Megacity vehicle and the i8 plug-in hybrid. The BMW Mini E has been available for lease in California, New York and New Jersey since 2009. Continue reading ›