Mirror, signal, economise

Andrew Williams | 12 years ago

Emerging in-car carbon-emissions technology – it’s clever, but is it convincing? Andrew Williams, environmental economist and journalist, rounds up the latest examples devices that are meant to make you drive smarter.

There’s increasing awareness that, relative to our choice of car type, how we drive may be just as significant, in terms of overall environmental impact of automobile use. In response, many car manufacturers and auto-tech firms are developing in-car technology designed to help drivers change their habits in order to improve fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions.

Against a background of ever-increasing financial and environmental constraints on the automotive sector, this type of in-car technology could well become an important facility for both car manufacturers and drivers. If the first wave of early adopters prove that the equipment can routinely help to improve fuel economy, reduce carbon emissions and, crucially, save money, it is likely to take off.

While the world waits for the next generation of alternative powertrains, it is difficult to deny that these in-car data-crunchers will make an important short- and medium-term contribution to improving the economic and environmental performance of the global automotive industry. We investigate recent examples of new products in this vital emerging market.

Fiat eco:Drive

A computer application designed to help users improve how efficiently they drive. It analyses driving style and provides feedback intended to enable reductions in fuel use and carbon emissions. Drivers can download the application free from a dedicated Fiat website. When a standard USB stick is plugged into the Blue&Me port in a new Fiat, data on driving style is saved to it automatically; then, when the stick is plugged into a computer at the end of a journey, the information is uploaded to the eco:Drive application, which analyses key aspects of driving technique such as acceleration, deceleration, gear changes and speed, and converts it into an eco:Index score. Step-by-step tutorials then advise drivers on how to improve their score.

Users can also monitor their mileage, CO2emissions and money saved (Fiat claim money savings of up to 15 per cent),  track changes over time, and interact with an online ecoVille community to share comments and suggestions. Fiat plan to ‘evolve and develop’ the application with feedback from all its ‘eco:Drivers,’ so it will improve as uptake increases.

Ford SmartGauge with EcoGuide

Ford’s EcoGuide system is a new dashboard-mounted instrument cluster, available in the US on the new Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. The system provides real-time information and feedback that helps drivers maximise fuel efficiency; its tutorial mode communicates in  ‘a whimsical way that does not overpower’, according to Ford. Drivers can access information on one of four customisable data screens, respectively named Inform (fuel level and battery charge status), Enlighten (electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer), Engage (engine and battery output power) and Empower (power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption).

The screens can also display data on fuel economy, fuel economy history, engine coolant temperature and current gear choice, as well as trip data, including trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty. An engine-coolant temperature indicator turns green when engine conditions are warm enough to allow engine pull-down. Depending on your susceptibility to persuasive design, long-term fuel efficiency can be displayed as either traditional chart or an innovative display that shows ‘growing’ leaves and vines on the right side of the cluster, the idea being that the more efficient a driver is, the more ‘lush and beautiful’ the leaves and vines – a visual reward for the driver’s efforts.

Garmin ecoRoute

A free software update for compatible Garmin Nüvi Sat-Nav products, which allows drivers to track fuel usage and select more fuel-efficient routes when navigating; you can select a ‘less fuel’ option as a routing preference, with suggestions based on road speed and vehicle acceleration data for a specified route. Fuel and mileage reports allow users to check fuel usage over time, and on a per-trip basis. According to Garmin, the mileage report also helps business travellers calculate their mileage expenses.

Honda Eco Assist

The Honda Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist) debuted in the US in March, in the all-new Insight hybrid. Honda describe the system as an ‘interactive, driver-focused fuel-economy enhancement technology’. It features two main components, an ECON button that optimises control of the continuously variable transmission and engine, and a ‘sophisticated’ feedback system with an ambient meter, a colour-enhanced speedometer background, to provide real-time guidance on environmentally responsible driving. When the system judges that users are driving efficiently, the background colour is green; when a more ‘aggressive’ driving manner is pursued, the display turns blue.

There is also an Eco Guide function, giving additional feedback about current driving techniques, and an Eco Scoring function, which assesses driving style over longer periods of time. A cute incentive (or not, depending on your view) is the leaf icons with which the system rewards users if they drive more efficiently over time, and even a trophy when they become a ‘real pro’.

Lysanda Eco-Log

The Eco-Log system is a software module aimed at operators of commercial vehicles, public-service vehicles and car fleets. It can be integrated into a fleet operator’s host tracker or telematics unit, and is intended to help reduce running costs by providing a continuous stream of data on fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and wastage. Lysanda claim that savings result from improvements in driving behaviour, thanks to the in-vehicle driver aid and management reporting tools. In their UK field tests on a large fleet of diesel cars, all drivers saved fuel by using the system, with average savings of 23 per cent.

The system allows fleet operators to monitor the level and composition of a vehicle’s emissions and, given that CO2 output and fuel consumption are directly related, calculate the exact amount of fuel required for each given journey, and therefore how much is being wasted. Other benefits include identification of problem drivers and/or problem vehicles, using traceable data; demonstration of CO2 measurement capability to new and existing customers; improvement of an operator’s public profile as an adopter of measurable CO2 technology; reduction in engine wear and powertrain failures through diagnostics and prognostics; and proof of high operating standards and a ‘clean bill of health’ at inspection. The system is currently available in two specifications: Eco-Log Metro for periodic reporting (per trip, day, week, etc) and Eco-Log Pro for real-time reports.

PLX Kiwi

A ‘Plug & Play’ device that tracks basic driving-technique data, including smoothness, drag, acceleration and deceleration. The data is then converted into a Kiwi Score, the goal being to obtain the highest score possible. The Drive Green mode presents users with 20 increasingly difficult ‘challenges’, meant to help them to optimise their Kiwi score. Kiwi claim that users improve miles per gallon (MPG) achieved by an average of 20 per cent, equivalent to around 1.8 US tons in CO2 emissions each year. This also equates to an average money saving of $1,000 over two years.

The system features three basic modes, providing information on real-time MPG (miles per gallon), trip average MPG, and trip ‘dollars’ consumed/saved (total amount of money spent/saved, in any currency, during single and multiple trips). Additional sensors display information on fuel used, fuel remaining, distance to empty, engine RPM, vehicle speed, coolant temperature and throttle position. The PLX Kiwi can be mounted in pretty much any convenient position in a vehicle; it is also available as a WiFi-enabled application for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

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Andrew Williams