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iSuppli: U.S. lags in green car electronics

Posted: 27 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:eco-friendly car electronics? eco driving? power train control?

U.S. carmakers are falling behind their foreign counterparts in the fast-growing area of providing ecologically oriented features in car navigation and telematics systems, according to iSuppli Corp.

New driver
Amid rising fuel costs and higher emissions standards, carmakers are developing eco-friendly driving solutions. The solutions range from an indicator on the instrument cluster that gives ecological driving advice, to sophisticated real-time driving pattern comparisons via a car's telematics system. Moreover, OEM and aftermarket navigation systems now are providing eco-friendly, fuel-efficient paths as part of route calculation, as opposed to simply presenting the shortest course to a given destination. Carmakers including Audi of Germany, Fiat of Italy, Kia of South Korea and Honda and Nissan of Japan now are offering and developing a variety of such solutions. However, these efforts aren't being matched by their competitors in Detroit.

"Compared to Europe and Asia, the North American market is behind the curve," said Phil Magney, VP of automotive research, iSuppli. "Detroit is largely focused on powertrain technologies, such as hybrids or battery-powered electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt, and less interested in putting fuel-saving tips into the infotainment system or gas pedal. North American OEMs have yet to announce an eco-friendly technology that operates through a navigation route or that notifies users of inefficient driving."

With the rising emphasis on fuel economy and increasing consumer awareness of the environmental impact of their activities, the U.S. auto industry risks being left behind in this key area, Magney warned.

"In a few years, it's entirely possible that telematics systems will give vehicle manufacturers the capability to re-flash powertrain control modules to improve the efficiency of vehicles," Magney said. "Eco-telematics also plays a role in hybrid vehicles with routing that optimizes charging of the batteries. Because of this, it's crucial for car makers to stay on top of the eco-friendly telematics and navigation phenomenon."

"In a few years, it's entirely possible that telematics systems will evolve on the eco-front and give vehicle manufacturers the capability to re-flash power train control modules to improve the efficiency of vehicles," Magney said.

More than MPG
For many years, miles per gallon (MPG) information has been available to drivers via the instrument cluster. However, carmakers now are taking MPG information, along with other data, and repackaging and marketing it to customers under the "eco" label.

The 2009 Kia Lotze is the first domestic vehicle in South Korea to feature an eco-driving system on the instrument cluster that color-codes driving patterns to help drivers get better gas mileage. This system is similar to the solution from Japanese OEMs, such as Nissan and Honda.

For example, the new-generation Honda Accord features an eco-driving system with an eco-lamp on its instrument cluster. The engine's engine control unit (ECU) calculates the revolutions per minute (RPM) information, variable cylinder information and torque-for-MPG information, and the eco-lamp turns on when the vehicle is in its most fuel-efficient mode.

Taking a step further, Nissan in Japan debuted a new Eco Drive function called Eco Pedal, the world's first system to actively monitor fuel consumption and encourage more efficient acceleration by adjusting back pressure on the accelerator pedal. Eco Pedal is part of Nissan's Eco Drive initiative, which was launched in February 2008. When connected to Nissan's Carwings telematics service, Eco Drive can rate a driver's fuel efficiency relative to other Carwings users.

Eco driving
Fiat also is pushing economically friendly driving like the Asian OEMs, but using an approach that's more true to the eco-initiative, rather than to fuel efficiency. The Fiat Blue&Me-based system records the consumption and emissions of each trip taken. The data then is recorded on a USB pen drive and can be analyzed on a home PC.

The EcoDrive software presents the driver with detailed environmental performance of the car, including CO2 emission levels. It analyzes the driver's style and then provides tips and recommendations on how to modify that style to achieve carbon reductions.

Meanwhile, Audi announced the availability of a new application that allows drivers to choose not only the fastest or shortest route but also the most fuel-efficient path. By avoiding upward slopes, city streets and stoplights as much as possible, overall gas consumption can be lowered by up to 5 percent, according to Audi officials. Audi recently announced that this feature first will be built into the navigation system of its next-generation Multimedia Interface slated for the A8, A6 and Q5. Audi also has a study, named Travolution, that represents the next step toward cleaner driving. In the ongoing study, the German OEM is testing new eco driving solutions by improving the surrounding traffic infrastructure.

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