Fuel prices are rising again just as automakers pull back on sedans

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For example, the base model Ford F-150, which has a V6 engine, gets about 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Transmissions have more gears, which means the engine does not have to work as hard to transition from one gear to another — in much the same way that it is easier to ride a bicycle with 21 speeds than it is to ride one with only 3 speeds.

There are also “start-stop” features on cars that shut down the engine when the vehicle is stopped, and cylinder deactivation that shuts down some of the cylinders in the engine when they aren’t needed — the way someone might only use one burner on a six-burner stove. GM uses this across its line, including in SUVs such as the Cadillac XT4.

Jeep added a “mild hybrid” system to the 4-cylinder engine in the 2018 model year for the gas-guzzling Wrangler, Jeep’s marquee off-road vehicle.

This includes an automatic start-stop function, regenerative braking and other tech. Essentially the engine shuts off when the vehicle is stopped or coasting, and can collect energy back from the brakes.

These types of improvements have led to some sometimes small but also considerable improvements in fuel economy, in notoriously inefficient vehicles. Automakers will look at making changes to a vehicle that yield only a few thousandths of a mile-per-gallon in fuel economy, including shaving the slightest bit of weight by changing a few components, using lighter materials, or making a design ever so slightly more aerodynamic, said Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research.

“They really go through everything,” she said, and they add up as many little changes as they can to squeeze out an additional mile per gallon.

The problem is that it is getting tougher and tougher to find ways to keep improving.

“The challenge is that all that low-hanging fruit, all those opportunities for improvement in the marketplace, have been realized already,” Lindland said.

And every year, vehicles grow heavier and heavier, due to the ever-increasing number of safety features and other amenities, such as infotainment systems, customers are increasingly demanding in cars, Bailo said.

To keep raising the bar, and certainly to achieve the sort of fuel efficiency current federal fuel economy rules require automakers to meet by 2025 — 54.5 mpg — electrification appears to be the best option on the table.

And automakers are already talking about electrifying much of their product portfolios.

Ford is among them. The company is going “all-in” on electrification, said president of global markets Jim Farley earlier this year. That includes the F-150.

There is expected to be a hybrid Jeep Wrangler in production by 2020.

In some ways, larger trucks might be the best platform for hybrids, which have a tiny slice of the total car market. At the end of 2017, hybrids and electric vehicles combined comprised only about 3 percent of all auto sales, Bailo said.

For one thing, SUVs and trucks often have higher ground clearance than sedans, meaning there is greater distance between the frame and the ground.

“If you are going to put a battery pack in a vehicle, an SUV makes much more sense than a passenger vehicle, because you have that higher ground clearance. You can fit a battery on the bottom of a vehicle rather than take up space elsewhere,” said Jeff Schuster, who is senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.

Oil prices are something to watch, Bailo said. She thinks consumers will start to grow anxious if and when prices at the pump start to climb above $4.00.

For now, though customers see no need to push toward more fuel efficient vehicles.

“There is really no demand for more fuel efficiency,” Lindland said. “Consumers are very happy with the fuel efficiency they are currently enjoying.”



Source : CNBC