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Automakers Finding New Ways to Boost Efficiency


Energy efficiency took center stage at the recent North American International Auto Show, as manufacturers proved they could find a multitude of ways to boost fuel economy.

While four inches of snow fell on the streets outside Cobo Hall in Detroit, automakers inside rolled out green technologies aimed at halting global warming. The new technologies, ranging from electric vehicles to smart phone apps to power-efficient audio systems, are helping them come closer to the government-mandated 35.5-mpg corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) needed by 2016.
Automakers Finding New Ways to Boost Efficiency”The Venturi America EV is modeled after American dune buggies. Source: Venturi Automobiles”

One way to meet the CAFÉ mandates is to roll out new hybrid vehicles and electric cars, and the auto show was rife with such introductions. Ford announced its Focus Electric, to be out in dealerships later this year, along with its C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, both slated for 2012. Toyota, meanwhile, showed off its forthcoming Prius Plug-In, as well as its all-electric RAV4, which will hits the streets sometime in 2012. And French manufacturer Venturi Automobiles unveiled the all-electric Venturi America, a 300-hp “high-voltage buggy,” said to modeled after American dune buggies.

The pressure to boost efficiency has reached the point where automakers are looking to suppliers more than ever, in search of help. Suppliers at the show talked about ongoing efforts with automakers on products ranging from starter motors to audio speakers. “They gave us the opportunity and said, ‘Maximize everything you can,'” said Robert Barnicoat, director of global business development for Harman/Becker Automotive Systems, regarding his company’s dealings with Toyota Motor Corp. in the design of audio systems.

Teaming With Suppliers
New cars, of course, grabbed the headlines at the show. Ford’s Focus Electric made the biggest splash, coming as it did on the heels of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, which took center stage last year. The Focus Electric, with 100 miles of all-electric range, appears to be positioned to go as a head-to-head competitor against the Leaf. Toyota, meanwhile, was betting on the Volt-busting Prius Plug-In, which will offer an all-electric range of about 13 miles and an overall driving range of more than 500.
Automakers Finding New Ways to Boost Efficiency”Toyota’s Prius V will benefit from the use of Harman’s GreenEdge audio technology. Source: Harman”

“Most folks will be able to go to work and do errands in the all-electric mode,” said Toyota spokeswoman Jana Hartline. “Then on the weekend, they’ll burn gasoline and take it out for a longer drive.”

While new vehicles grabbed the headlines, however, automotive suppliers showed they’re playing an equally important role, especially in conventional gas-burning vehicles. Harman described how it teamed with Toyota on the incorporation of its GreenEdge audio technology. Although audio components would have once been unthinkable as a solution to fuel efficiency dilemmas, manufacturers such as Toyota are now looking for every imaginable edge, and GreenEdge supplied one.

Toyota incorporated GreenEdge in its 2011 Prius V, a hybrid gasoline-electric mid-size that’s known for its greenness. The new technology helped maintain the desired image with a multitude of energy efficiency advantages, including a weight savings of 37 percent, power improvement of 41 percent, packaging reduction of 5 percent and an overall energy efficiency boost of more than 60 percent.

GreenEdge’s advantages are a godsend for companies like Toyota, which are always searching for ways to boost product quality while cutting energy use. Conventional audio speakers, which can be bulky, are a prime place to start that search, largely because big speakers can cause packaging difficulties in already-tight spaces, while adding weight at the same time.
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