The LA auto show put on it’s best face for the media this week, briefly touching on the realities and drama happening out there in the real world, carefully omitting any mention of an auto industry bailout, then for the most part quickly turning on the fireworks, flash, and future with cars such as the Honda FC Sport (pictured) the monstrous Volkswagen-Red Bull Baja Race Touareg TDI Trophy Truck, and the Braille Battery Nissan Altima sports hybrid.
Concept cars and green race cars are fine, but what does this do for you, now? Not much. Here’s what I came across that shows the most promise to green both what and how you drive:
Feedback mechanisms are showing up in increasing numbers, such as Honda’s EcoAssist debuting in their soon to be released Insight and Ford’s EcoGuide tell drivers how well they’re doing, and how they can improve.
And yet for the most part these are only showing up in hybrids, and not where it could do the most good, in regular cars. Note to auto manufacturers: Not everybody wants a hybrid, but everybody wants to save gas. Give them more tools to do that.
Speaking of, EcoDriving is a project run by the Auto Alliance, an association of a number of top manufacturers. It’s simple, really: be a smarter, safer, and more planet friendly driver. How? Mostly by common sense things, like keeping tires inflated, and minimizing the load in your trunk.
But when I got to go drive with one of the EcoDriving people, their suggestions, while simple, were more than I (and I imagine many of you) knew. For instance, I was surprised to find how early they had me shift, as compared to how I typically drive. And I’m no speed demon. It quickly became normal for me to shift in a way that had the engine running calmer, and me feeling more so too.
Automatic drivers can do it too, by quickly taking their foot off the pedal, and letting it shift early. Try being tactical in how you enter the freeway, so you blend rather then sprint or crawl on keeps things at an even keel. And most interesting, taking a little to get used to, use your vehicle’s inertia when possible, rather than always having your foot on either the gas or brakes.
The results? I got nearly 39 miles per gallon, freeway traffic included, when I’d gotten under 30 before their guidance.
In a way, EcoDriving is more attractive packaging for people to be sensible drivers. And it does a great job of that, building in a game component where you can test and improve your skills, and compare how you match up with others. It appeals to both the pocketbook and the latent environmentalist in us all, making it easy to make a difference without having to radically change your life. Save money and reduce emissions, who wouldn’t want to do that?
And there’s one last thing: No matter what car you drive, and what engine it has, if it’s heavier than it could be, that’s reducing mileage and increasing emissions.
Enter Faurecia. They make what you mostly don’t see or take for granted, like the exhaust system, the dashboard, the seats, and the center console between driver and passenger seats. And they’re going to make it lighter, thinner, yet just as strong and supportive as what’s currently in cars. They’ve already achieved a 45 pound (20kg) reduction in currently developing vehicles, and in the near future, 66 pounds (30kg).
That may not sound like much, but added up over hundreds of thousands of miles and vehicles, the reduction of emissions and resource use is potentially substantial.
Where does this show up? The interior, where in the future you’ll see center consoles made of durable fabric rather than heavy plastic. Dashboards made of recycled wood fiber and recyclable plastic. Emissions systems that are 25-40% lighter, with a 10-20% emissions reduction. Aluminum honeycomb and plastic/foam replacing some of the now typically steel components in the front, reducing weight, increasing cabin space, and maintaining vehicle safety. And much more.
While some would argue that radical change now is necessary to make a useful impact on the health of the planet and use of resources, it’s these incremental, more immediate, doable measures that will also play a part in greening how we drive, at less cost, and less waiting for technology to reach the masses.
Readers: What do you see as ways to green your cars, existing and near term? What would you like to see in vehicles that’s so far missing? Yes, more robust transit systems are a part, but let’s focus on individual transit here for the moment.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.