Fuel Efficient Cars: Evolution of the Vehicle Industry

Abstract

The paper is meant to show the evolution of the vehicle industry from the early diesel engines to the current more technologically advanced models that we see in the market today. The first portion of the paper traces the invention of the diesel engine in the late 19th century. Under the title of the ”working of a diesel engine”, I have discussed the first steps that preceded the invention of a diesel engine as we know it today. Further in the paper, we acknowledge that the idea of the electric motor engine is not something new in the vehicle manufacturing industry. The other subheadings are dedicated to analyzing the working combination of the diesel engine’s energy and electric energy as is the case with hybrid vehicles. On another perspective of enhancing fuel efficiency, we look at the loremo model which is not a hybrid per se but a fuel-efficient vehicle.

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Introduction

One of the most precious commodities in the global market today is oil. Countries that have this natural reserve in large quantities continue enjoying proceeds from the product now and in the unforeseeable future. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq which have vast oil reserves have in the past been accused of creating a temporary shortage of the commodity in the market so as prices can go up as dictated by the law of demand and supply. The shortages and the high prices of oil plus the estimation of the exhaustion of the product which a third of it is already gone, has created a lot of tension in the world and the vehicle-making industry.

In response to high oil prices, vehicle (largest users of the commodity) makers have seen it appropriate to either come up with models that consume lesser of the product or vehicles that use alternative sources of power other than the expensive petroleum. In their quest to eliminate the over-reliance on oil, engineers have developed vehicles that solely use solar power as their only source of energy and others that are electrically driven in that they are fitted with batteries that are charged by plugging into an electrical socket. However, both vehicles have neither matched the performance of diesel nor gasoline vehicles. It was thus necessary to change the tactic in solving this problem by trying to reduce petroleum consumption rates of vehicles without cutting down on the performance. The idea of the Loremo was conceived out of this necessity. The car however compromised on comfort and space when compared to ordinary vehicles. This in turn led to the idea of incorporating electric energy and petroleum energy into one single vehicle thus gaining the tag “hybrid” to mean a cross of two different entities in the sourcing of energy.

This paper is dedicated to discussing hybrid vehicles explaining how they function, their fuel efficiency, and traces their evolution from the first diesel engine. To appreciate the difference between these vehicles and the ordinary gasoline vehicles we also look at their differences which in return help us understand the hype roused by this invention.

Diesel engine

The word diesel was adapted from the inventor of the engine that used petroleum to generate energy through internal combustion. This was way back in the late 19th century. The man behind this invention, Rudolf Diesel, was not the original bearer of the idea of internal combustion of fuel to produce energy but his workings were an improvement of earlier engines that had been developed before but were inefficient compared to his new version.

In his advanced diesel engine model, Rudolf Diesel theorized that higher compression leads to higher efficiency and more power. This he did practically employing his theories and in the end developing an engine that had 75% efficiency, unlike the previous ones which had an efficiency of 25%. This he achieved by high compression of air by the piston to produce heat energy thereby increasing the possibility of diesel reacting with the concentrated hot air given diesel’s high energy content. He achieved this because when air molecules are packed so close together due to compression, fuel has a better chance of reacting with as many oxygen molecules as possible.

Further advancement of the engine was hampered by a problem associated with handling such high levels of temperatures and pressure. A case worth mention courtesy of the fatalities involved was the destruction of property and the engine itself that Maschinenfabrik Augsburg (MAN) of Germany tried to work on. Another problem that hampered the quick development of more efficient models was the legal battles emanating from disputes in the issuance of patents. Still, at this time, diesel fuel was hard to come by because of the high costs involved in oil processing and poor technology at the time. Meaningful development was to come ten years after Diesel’s death where engineers succeeded in developing an injection pump that was able to inject heavy liquid fuel into highly compressed air directly into the cylinder. By 1927 the Bosch Company of Germany was considerably involved in the development and production of injection pumps for mass consumption.

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Petroleum Energy

As earlier said world’s petroleum reserves are depleting rapidly sending warnings of the imminent looming danger of losing this precious commodity given that it is a nonrenewable resource. If current consumption rates are to continue, the U.S. Department of Energy says that the world’s remaining oil reserves would be exhausted in 40 years. Despite this, consumption rates are bound to increase as the number of vehicles in the world continues to increase as global economic growth is enabling more persons to own and drive. One of the ways thought could be effective in slowing down the consumption rates is improving the fuel efficiency in vehicles. The trend in doing so has been encouraging although. For instance, from the mid-1970s to 1990, the average fuel economy for all vehicles on the road in the U.S. doubled from about 14 to 28 miles per gallon (mpg). By 2005, it had dropped to 24 mpg.1

History of hybrid vehicles

The most surprising thing about this new craze of hybrid vehicles is that the technology has been around since the invention of vehicles themselves. The technology of using electric energy in vehicles was first invented by Robert Anderson in Scotland in 1839. He used a light electric motor with heavy storage batteries that could not last for long. Further advancement in this technology was shelved with the invention of the diesel engines in the late 19th century. Its revival as used in hybrid vehicles was necessitated by the biting high costs of petroleum and the fear of depletion of the resource. Now, the modern version incorporates electric and petroleum sourcing of energy.2

Development of Hybrid vehicles

Besides a smaller, more efficient engine, today’s hybrids use many other tricks to increase fuel efficiency. Some of those tricks will help any type of the car get better mileage, and some only apply to a hybrid. Hybrid vehicles are designed to efficiently burn fuel and make full use of any energy that exists as a by-product of certain activities in the following ways;

  • Sometimes shuts off the engine – A hybrid car does not need to rely on the gasoline engine all of the time because it has batteries as an alternate power source. This happens in cases where the car stops a lot and does not require much energy e.g. at a red light or during tragic snarl-ups.
  • Use advanced aerodynamics to reduce drag -Aerodynamics has to do with energy utilized in meting out air resistance. One sure way of doing so is to reduce the frontal area of the car. Reducing or eliminating projections from the car also reduces the drag.
  • Use low-rolling-resistance tires – Hybrid cars use special tires that are both stiffer and inflated to a higher pressure than conventional tires. The result is that they cause about half the drag of regular tires.
  • Recover energy and store it in the battery- A hybrid car captures some of the kinetic energy wasted during braking and stores it in the battery for later use. It does this by using “regenerative breaking.” In this mode, the electric motor acts as a generator and charges the batteries while the car is slowing down.
  • Use lightweight materials – A lighter vehicle uses less energy each time you accelerate or drive up a hill. Composite materials like carbon fiber or lightweight metals like aluminum and magnesium can be used instead of heavy steel. A car such as the loremo weighs less than 1000 pounds to make its fuel efficiency a reality.3

Loremo Low resistance mobile

Loremo AG is an automobiles maker in Germany involved in a project of making the most fuel-efficient car ever. The word Loremo comes from the phrase Low Resistance Mobile. Its aspects enable it to gain the possible maximum distance from every drop of fuel. Some of the technicalities that determine fuel consumption rates in a vehicle are the ones that have been utilized in its making. However, it is important to note that some comforts of the ordinary vehicle that uses diesel have been excluded. This was because the car was aimed at emerging markets such as China and India where middle-income earners are conscious of fuel consumption by vehicles and would therefore find this model as the ultimate solution. But due to its effect on climate, the makers are planning to introduce this model to other markets such as the European Union.

Particulars of the car

The car is not yet available in the market though it is expected to make157 Miles per Gallon (MPG) through its turbo diesel engine. The car comes in two versions, the base model and the sports version. The base model is expected to produce only 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, hence the best in environmental conservation measures. The only other car that nears its performance in the market currently is the ”SMART” by Daimler AG which produces 88grams of carbon dioxide over the same distance. Consumers have to do with the ”Smart” pending mass production slated to begin in 2009. Nevertheless, the body was presented in Geneva in 2006 for the market to see its exterior specifications.

According to the makers of this car, its fuel efficiency is based on aerodynamics, low weight, and reduced performance in the two-cylinder engine. Weight and air resistance are the most influential factors in determining fuel efficiency a principle that is well utilized in sports cars. Apart from the mentioned factors that make the Loremo a fuel miser, it does not possess the qualities or rather descriptions of a hybrid as it does not have another source of energy apart from fuel combustion. What the car is all about is the efficient use of fuel without incorporating the principles used in hybrids of utilizing more than one power source.

Hybrids in the market

About anything automotive, the word “hybrid” has become associated with fuel efficiency. The most basic way of understanding the technology involved came with the introduction of the popular Toyota Prius. Within the first weeks of its entry into the US market, it made record sales with customer reviews accelerating its popularity as its fuel efficiency levels were completely surprising as compared to earlier Toyota models which are fuel guzzlers. Its entry into the market also coincided with the unbelievably high costs of fuel at gas stations as world fuel prices shot above the US$100 per gallon mark. The spread in popularity of hybrid technology has not been limited to auto-consumers alone but also to the vehicle makers themselves. At the moment, almost every vehicle manufacturing company has one or a few hybrid models in the market by its name.

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Despite the perceived benefits and popularity of hybrid vehicles, sales figures of these vehicles at the moment do not reflect the hype that has been associated with them since their introduction. Americans purchased about 250,000 hybrid vehicles in 2006, accounting for just 1.5 percent of the 17,000,000 cars and trucks sold.4 This problem of reluctance in buying the hybrid models is not unique to America alone but is common worldwide making vehicle makers wonder about the readiness of the market in embracing new technology.

Various reasons can be attributed to the difference in sales and why hybrid vehicle sales haven’t grown quickly as anticipated; one being the limited number of vehicles available in the market. Instead of incorporating hybrid technology in already existing models, manufacturers are introducing new models altogether. However, all hope is not lost as manufacturers have realized the potential in these vehicles and as a result made investments that will go towards increasing production and hence serve the market fully.

Pricing is another reason for its low sales; In addition to a vehicle’s conventional gasoline/diesel engine, hybrids also include a regenerative braking system that recaptures energy normally wasted in braking and slowing, a battery pack to store the recovered power, and one or more electric motors that assist in propelling the vehicles. All this additional technology adds considerably to the overall cost of hybrid vehicles. Still, automakers are loath to be excluded from the hybrid hysteria, believing that offering such vehicles demonstrates both social responsibilities as well as technical prowess.

From GM comes the Saturn Vue Green Line compact SUV. Hybrid versions of GM’s Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura mid-size sedans are due later this year. Ford offers hybrid versions of its Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner compact SUV’s. Honda’s popular Civic and Accord compact and mid-size cars are both offered in hybrid form. From Nissan comes the Altima hybrid, a mid-size sedan.5

Features of hybrids

Fuel Economy: There is a convectional theory that hybrid cars are better in the city while diesel is better on the highways. This is so because while driving in the cities, the driver is prone to making more stops than on the highway.

Emission: The hybrid makes are best for emission output. Even though the diesel engines are getting cleaner, they cannot be purchased in Maine, California, New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont because of strict environmental standards.

Long-term durability: The lifespan of hybrid vehicles is not yet known though expected to be more than that of diesel engine vehicles. However, maintenance costs are expected to be high as they may involve the replacement of storage batteries. This has been guaranteed by the manufacturers by giving long term warranty. Diesel on the other hand is durable going thousand of miles without breaking down. This is due to the inherent efficiency of the diesel cycle and also the hardware for the engine to sustain the high consistent compression explosions means that they are built with extreme robustness. These diesel cars are less expensive in the long term.

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Fringe benefits: The basis of auto-customers making decisions while shopping is mostly directed to fuel economy, durability, cost, and emissions. At the moment the Federal government offers tax incentives for those customers who purchase hybrids.

Conclusion and recommendations

Despite the restrictions in certain states, a hybrid vehicle is the best mode of transport as about fuel efficiency. But, those customers who desire high utility and durability are better equipped using diesel engines. In my view, I would propose the directing of technological resources and energy towards the invention of a vehicle that would perform as well as a diesel vehicle but uses a completely different source of energy. Nuclear/ atomic energy should be tamed to be applicable in vehicles without posing any dangers to the environment and users alike.6 However, much credit is due to the inventors of hybrid technology, though complete use of electric energy in vehicles looks achievable as demonstrated by electric trains.

References

Curtis D. (2004). Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History, London: McFarland pp. 110 – 133.

James, J. (1980). Chilton’s Diesel Guide: Cars and Light Trucks, New York: Chilton Book Co. pp. 120 – 138.

Jan, P.(1978). Modern Diesel Cars, New York: Tab Books pp 220 – 230.

Karen D. (2006). Hybrid Cars, New York: Kid Haven Press pp. pp. 23 – 30.

Loremo Car. Web.

Marian, B. (2005). Lead Markets for Environmental Innovations, New York: Springer pp. 147 – 160.

Nick, Y. (2006). The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook: A Buyer’s Guide, California: Globe Pequot pp. 100 – 144.

Paul, S. (2006). Future Tech: Innovations in Transportation, California: Black Dog pp 99 – 113.

Robert J. (1982). All About Electric and Hybrid Cars, New York: Tab Books pp. 230 – 250.

Richard, P. (2006). Leaving South Carolina, Carolina: Author House pp 120 – 150.

Robert J. (1982). All About Electric and Hybrid Cars, New York: Tab Books pp. 230 – 250.

Hybrid Cars. Web.

Hybrid Cars Consumer guide. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Paul, S. (2006). Future Tech: Innovations in Transportation, California: Black Dog pp 99 – 113.
  2. Curtis D. (2004). Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History, London: McFarland pp. 110 – 133.
  3. Curtis D. (2004). Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History, London: McFarland pp. 110 – 133.
  4. Nick, Y. (2006). The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook: A Buyer’s Guide, California: Globe Pequot pp. 100 – 144.
  5. Nick, Y. (2006). The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook: A Buyer’s Guide, California: Globe Pequot pp. 100 – 144.
  6. Robert J. (1982). All About Electric and Hybrid Cars, New York: Tab Books pp. 230 – 250.
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