March 25th, 2013 at 11:51am
The latest generations of hybrids and small displacement engines with turbos fall well short of the fuel economy they’re supposed to deliver. So that begs the question, what technology does improve fuel efficiency? Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory develop a new lightweight, space-saving CNG fuel tank. Mopar is considering building a version of the Ram pick-up based on the concept vehicles it showed off at Moab last week. All that and more, plus host John McElroy gives his insight on why commercial truck fleets in the U.S. are real interested in natural gas and propane.
Welcome to a brand new week of Autoline Daily, and now let’s get to the news.
CAR SALES STRONG IN U.S.
Car sales in the U.S. are still going strong. Wards Auto World forecasts that automakers will sell over 1.4 million vehicles in the American market this month, which is up nearly 8 percent from a year ago. That translates to a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate, or SAAR of 15.3 million units. We’ll get the official results next week.
FORD CUTS WATER USE
The auto industry consumes a lot of natural resources but one that doesn’t get talked about much is water. H20 is needed for things like cooling towers at car plants, parts washing and for painting cars. A little over a year ago Ford announced plans to cut the amount of water it uses by 30 percent by 2015. And it’s almost there. It’s already cut its per vehicle water use by 25 percent. Since 2000 its total use is down over 60 percent. Ford wants to use an average of 1,056 gallons to build each vehicle globally. That’s 3,997 liters.
MPG TECHNOLOGY THAT WORKS
As we reported here before Consumer Reports did, the latest generations of hybrids seem to fall well short of the fuel economy they’re supposed to deliver. The same goes for small displacement engines with turbos. So what technology does improve fuel efficiency? We’ve been saying that continuously variable transmissions deliver terrific real world fuel economy. Consumer Reports agrees. It also adds direct fuel injection, conventional transmissions with more gears and electric power steering. And when you combine these technologies together, cars get noticeably better fuel economy.
LESS FILLING CNG TANKS
One of the major draw-backs of using a compressed natural gas fuel system is the amount of room that the fuel tanks take up. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a new lightweight, space-saving CNG fuel tank. They are made using superplastic forming technology along with friction air welding, which fuses metal sheets together at specific points to form internal air chambers. The tanks can be made to fit under a vehicle, they weigh less than traditional cylinders and will cost under $1500. And we have more about CNG coming up in the second part of the show.
MOPAR TO BUILD RAPTOR KILLER?
As we said last week after Mopar unveiled six concept models at Moab, that it sometimes comes out with a package based on one of the vehicles. It looks like it could be a Ram pick-up that could take on Ford’s SVT Raptor. Mopar says they want to do more research, but if it makes sense they’ll do it.
R.I.P. BOBBY SMITH
As many of you might’ve seen on our Autoline Twitter feed, Bobby Smith, from the ’70s soul group The Spinners died last week. In addition to singing hits like “Could it be I’m Falling in Love,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and “I’ll Be Around ,” Mr. Smith, who grew up in Ferndale, Michigan, was also a life-long car buff. In fact, he credits the way his friends customized their cars with chrome Cadillac hub caps for giving him the inspiration to come up with the group’s name — The Detroit Spinners, which they later shortened to “The Spinners.” In case you’ve never experienced Bobby Smith’s singing or the group at its absolute peak, you can’t go wrong with their classic 1972 album called simply “The Spinners.”
Coming up next, a look the how commercial truck fleets in the U.S. are getting real interested in natural gas and propane.
Commercial truck fleets in the United States are getting very interested in converting to natural gas or propane because prices are so low. Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner and Thomas Built Bus have jumped into the market. International has a cost calculator on its website that shows how a Class 8 semi that runs on CNG can save over $150,000 over the life of the truck.
Unfortunately, for now, LPG and CNG don’t make much sense for you and me. There simply aren’t enough fueling stations to accommodate us. But for truck fleets that run the same routes and return to the same yard every night, it makes a lot of sense. Today’s natural gas prices are typically $1.50 a gallon-equivalent cheaper than gasoline and $2 cheaper than diesel.
Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all offer CNG or LPG trucks. Ford has 10 different models. It charges $325 to add harder valves and valve seats, but a customer must spend an additional $10,000 or so to add the tanks and fuel system. However, for many fleets, which easily put 100,000 miles on a truck a year, the payback is only two years. Ford says its sales of these vehicles, while still small, have shot up 350 percent since 2009.
Natural gas and propane in gaseous form hold less energy than gasoline or diesel, but by using liquid natural gas or liquid propane, trucks can pack much more fuel into a tank. Also, new fuel injection systems inject the fuel into the engine in liquid form, not gaseous, providing similar power and driveability to gasoline or diesel. LPG has a 105 octane rating, CNG is at 130. So far none of the OEM’s are modifying their engines to take advantage of this octane boost, so there could be further efficiencies to come. Depending the on duty cycle these trucks emit 20-30 percent fewer greenhouse gasses.
Outside the U.S. liquid propane, commonly called autogas, is the most popular. It is the third most common fuel in the world, after gasoline and diesel. There are roughly 17 million vehicles running on LPG worldwide, mainly in Poland, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and Europe.
But fracking is an American innovation. This is where natural gas prices have fallen the most and are likely to stay under petroleum prices for decades to come. So the U.S. is likely to catch up quickly with the rest of the world because the savings are simply too big to ignore.
Anyway that’s how I see it, and that wraps up today’s report. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.