Intelligent Cars as Fuel Efficient as Hybrids

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A study at the University of Melbourne found that “intelligent” cars, meaning ones outfitted with telematics which enabled them to sense the cars around them and make more gradual adjustments to driving speeds than humans would make, yielded the same 15-20% fuel savings that hybrid cars offer, at considerably lower cost.

The study did not quantify how much cheaper the intelligent cars were, but a conventional (meaning used) car can be outfitted with a the needed sensors. This is a far more important advantage than one might imagine. When advocates of new engine types talk about fuel economies, they omit the not inconsiderable environmental costs of building and delivering a new car, and disposing of the car it replaces. A technology that can reduce the fuel consumption of existing cars is enormously valuable.

Intelligent cars would also afford automakers around the world more time to reach consensus (or at least narrow their options) on next generation propulsion technologies. One big issue is that the US favors ethanol, while other countries are leaning towards diesel, hybrids, and electric. Each has distinct infrastructure requirements, so there will be a shakeout.


So-called “intelligent” cars fitted with sensors to predict traffic flows can deliver the same fuel efficiency as vaunted hybrid vehicles, according to a study published on Wednesday.

In contrast, “intelligent” cars are conventional vehicles would be fitted with telematics.

These are sensors and receivers that work in a network, swapping information about the traffic ahead in order to speed up the car or slow it down so that the ride is smooth and avoids the stop-start phenomenon that so drains fuel.

The technology for road telematics already exists, but given questions on safety and other issues that surround it, it is only being deployed in a small handful of field tests.

Engineers at Australia’s University of Melbourne compared how the two novel technologies matched up on fuel efficiency.

They used an unconverted saloon, or sedan, as the benchmark and three different driving cycles, configured to the Australian, American and European urban lifestyles, for the test runs.

A hybrid version of the car would deliver fuel economy of 15-25 percent over the unconverted vehicle, they calculated.

But this saving was matched when the benchmark car was fitted with basic telematics that predicted traffic flows as little as seven seconds ahead, as determined by the Australian drive cycle.

Under the US and European cycles, hybrid-matching fuel economy was reached with a look-ahead predictability of less than 60 seconds.

If the predictability was boosted to 180 seconds, the newly-intelligent car was 33 percent more fuel-efficient than when it was unconverted.

In their computations, the authors included factors such as the presence of “unintelligent” cars on the road that would impede the efficiency of the look-forward technology.

The study appears in Transport Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, a journal published by the Elsevier group.

The authors say the figures are useful contribution in the public-policy debate about fuel economy, which is also a key issue in the fight against greenhouse-gas emissions.

If simple and effective sensor networks can be installed in cities and cars, people who are interested in fuel-savings benefits will question the value of purchasing hybrids, given their hefty price tag, the paper suggests.

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