LED stands for light emitting diode, and they are already common in all types of devices. One very desirable trait that they posses is that they last a very long time. They also can be quite bright. Additionally, the bulbs draw very little electricity, which paves the way for some of our other gas-saving technologies later on the list.
Next on the list are smaller wheels. With DUBS being ultra-hip these days, I'm not going to go crazy and say we should all go back to fourteen inch wheels. But, style is getting in the way of substance when our wheels get much larger than seventeen or eighteen inches. Also, consider going narrower! Wide tires convince some that the car must be faster. In reality, most of the time they are just using more gas.
Keep reading after the jump for the rest of our commentary.
Number three on our list is to lighten up. Sure, cars need to be safe - nobody wants to roll up in a death trap! But, do you drive a four-door five-seater every day on your way to work? Do you carpool? No? How often could the average driver get by with only having two seats? Pretty often is the answer. The Rocky Mountain Institute has other guidelines drawn out to lighten our vehicles, but some could be cost prohibitive. We have already lightened up our rolling mass if we have chosen sixteen inch wheels over twenty inchers, so that is a start. How about using nickel metal hydride batteries instead of the big, heavy lead acid one that is under the hood of nearly every car sold today? How about lightening up under the engine compartment - which brings us to...
Number four: Consider a smaller engine. For one, if we have lightened up our car already and only have a driver plus sometimes a passenger, we could do our everyday drive with a four-cylinder instead of the six- or eight- that is more common. Really, this one is a no-brainer when it comes to saving gas. Of course, performance under acceleration would suffer, but why is everyone driving Nissan Altima's that accelerate to sixty in six seconds? Why are we commuting in 300C's that can do 150 miles per hour? Gosh, it makes you wonder how society got by having sixty horses in their VW Beetles? Or even 140 horsepower in their Ford Taurus? All right, if you must have a six-cylinder, at least be prepared to accept number five on the list.
Cylinder deactivation is popping up more and more these days. By making some mechanical changes in the valvetrain and some computer changes, manufacturers are able to stop combustion from taking place in half (or more) of the cylinders when they are not needed. This is the first item on our list that would most likely raise the cost of your car. If you just have to have "plenty" of power under the hood of your car, you'll also have to pay for it.
The next rung up the ladder is the CVT transmission. Some drivers complain that they feel slower than a conventional transmission, but this is usually just their perception. In fact, a well-done CVT is likely quicker, as it can keep the engine under optimal power under acceleration. Likewise, the transmission can keep the engine in its most economical range when just cruising, thereby saving gas. They might cost a bit more than standard geared transmission, but don't necessarily need to. They are a proven technology at this point too.
Direct injection is coming to an engine near you regardless of whether or not it saves gas... because it makes more power. Consumers are willing to pay for technology which makes their car faster, but not always greener. Direct injection kills both birds with the same stone. If we wanted to be extra green, we would apply the technology on a smaller engine and make the same amount of power as before.
Stop/Start technology is common on hybrid automobiles. BMW is bringing the technology to non-hybrid models, and with good reason. Why waste gas when you are stopped? With modern lubrication and a heavy-duty starter the wear factor is nearly zero. Some people already stop their cars from idling manually, why not have the car do it for us?
Now, let's start to talk about regenerative braking. What good is regen if there is no large battery pack to charge up for forward motion? Well, consider the alternator, which charges the battery in your car while the engine is running. By removing the drag of the alternator, we would be saving gas. Also, the power gained from not turning the alternator at all times would allow for a less powerful engine. As you can probably see by now, many of these technologies go hand-in-hand. Which brings us right into our last item on the list.
Mild hybrid systems are usually not capable of driving the car under electric power themselves. But, if your car is already sporting Stop/Start technology, it likely already has a mildly powerful electric motor as a starter. By engaging that same motor under acceleration, we can cut the amount of gasoline that the internal combustion motor requires for forward progress. Of course, we already have regenerative braking and we replaced our lead acid battery with a nickel metal hydride pack, so let's use the extra juice to save gas. Mild hybrid vehicles cost much less than their full hybrid cousins, but with the savings in gas that we have already achieved with the other nine items on our list, we are way ahead of the curve anyway.
Full hybrids just go to eleven, that's all.
To sum them all up:
- LED lighting
- Smaller wheels
- Lighten 'em up
- Smaller engines
- Cylinder deactivation
- CVT transmissions
- Direct injection
- Engine Stop\Start
- Regenerative brakes
- Mild Hybrid systems