Thursday, September 2, 2010

Role of Fuel Economy Standards in Effecting Technological Change

I was fascinated to learn yesterday that Mercedes has paid the US government $300 million in fines due to violating the CAFE standards. As fuel economy standards continue to rise manufacturers will need to find innovative ways to reduce the fuel consumption of their luxury and sports models in order to end up with acceptable cross-fleet mean fuel consumption figures. The interesting thing is that luxury cars is exactly where it is easiest to absorb the costs of new technologies. Most automotive innovations have been introduced first on luxury models and then trickled down to mass-market vehicles. Why should fuel economy technologies be any different? But up till recently, manufacturers have tried to sell fuel efficient mass-market cars. Some of the more innovative such as the Prius have only been competitive beyond a green signalling niche market with government subsidies. But experimenting first with up-market models makes more sense to me. There are already Lexus hybrids but now BMW and Mercedes seem to be following suit.

Today, I went to the BMW Welt museum/exhibition here in M√ľnchen where I happen to be visiting:

A major theme of the exhibition was new technologies to reduce fuel consumption while maintaining performance. The suite of technologies is termed BMW Efficient Dynamics. Several BMW models already incorporate the technologies, which include regenerative braking, engines which shut off when the car isn't moving, more efficient fuel injection etc. Hybrid vehicles will be available soon.

BMW is still pushing hydrogen cars, which seem to be a mistake to me. Especially, using hydrogen to fuel an internal combustion engine makes no sense at all I think.

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