Game-changing 2015 fuel economy rules are forcing vehicle development teams to make high-stakes bets on expensive technologies--bets that will separate the winners from the also-rans.
Not only do federal rules target a 2015 fleet average of 35.5 mpg, up from the current 27.5 mpg for cars and 23.1 mpg for light trucks, but also they force automakers to bet on different technology packages for each vehicle segment. Companies that do best at mixing technologies while keeping down costs will have an advantage when buyers wince at higher stickers.
It's a much more complex game than in the past. Here's why:
Each size category of vehicle--"footprint," in federal jargon--will have its own miles per gallon bogey. That means that even shrimpy little compacts will get systems such as dual-clutch transmissions and variable valve timing. That could add $1,800 to the sticker.Many big pickups, meanwhile, will need diesel engines to get acceptable fuel economy while maintaining hauling and payload specs. Chalk up $8,000 or more for that.Nizar Trigui, director of vehicle energy management engineering for Ford Motors, says the footprint rule will require automakers to develop the right technology package for each segment. Trigui adds: "Technology is not generic. It is very specific for the different segments."
Every automaker will have its own corporate average fuel economy requirement, sales-weighted by footprint. That last bit may sound like technical jargon, but it turns CAFE strategies upside down.In the past, automakers could pump out stripped-down econoboxes to balance out big, gas-guzzling trucks. Not anymore. The more small cars they sell, the higher their CAFE number rises.… Read more