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Newcomers succeed in automotive industry

Catch the WAVE
Catch the WAVE

Interesting events are happening in the automotive industry on the path to alternative transportation: A few industry-newcomers are having unprecedented success, while some old-timers struggle with commonplace technologies, systems or assemblies.

Tesla, with no background or experience as a car company, is successful in developing and producing electric vehicles - not only good looking, even winning "Car of the Year".

Google, a wizard in electronics and software, is beating tech-savvy carmakers to the punch with autonomous driving, demonstrating that automobiles are evolving into "computers on wheels".

Walmart is another company interested in automotive progress, true to their slogan "Save More. Live Better." Accordingly, a little old-fashioned know-how and good aerodynamics cannot be disregarded when it comes to efficient progress going down the road, literally and figuratively.

Keeping cost down is part of good management, in a business or household. When you can save a few liters/100km of fuel in the family car, that will save you more than a few dollars.

Walmart has a fleet of more than 6,000 trucks delivering the goods you and I need and buy. When they can save a few liters/100km, that multiplies into tens of thousands of dollars per truck. They proved that point last year with a Peterbilt-Cummins "SuperTruck", which achieved an average of 9.9 mpg (24 l/100km).

During the time before the 1973 oil crisis, a truck might lumber along using between 2-3 mpg of cheap fuel. Since that event, not only cars have changed their shape and their engines, trucks also improved, but less visibly - with air suspension, doubling pulling power and halving fuel consumption. Forty years later, the SuperTruck's four-times-better fuel mileage is a huge improvement.

The range from 2-10 in miles per gallon does not affect our perception as much as does the spread in liters per 100 kilometers; as well, we have a habit of thinking in most cases that a larger number is better — consider this: 2mpg =117 l/100km; 3mpg = 78l/100km; average of today's trucks is 6mpg = 39l/100km; Walmart's SuperTruck achieved a consumption of 9.9 mpg = 24 l/100km.

As they say, less is more.

Less fuel-use equals more miles per gallon, which means less money and time spent at the pump.

"Save More. Live Better."

Progress continues: BulletTruck, Walmart’s Advanced Vehicle Experience (WAVE), though the magic of aerodynamics is 20% more ‘slip-streamed’ and as a result of that is able to achieve 13.6 mpg. That equals 17.5l/100km and brings a 65,000 lbs tractor-trailer of 53 feet length into the fuel consumption range of a pickup of some years ago. The tractor-trailer combo is about 4,000 lbs lighter than a regular 18-wheeler by using carbon fiber material, even with the retractable aero-extension. (contains extensive treatment of truck aerodynamics)

The secret behind the extraordinary low fuel consumption is in part due to the hybrid power-train, consisting of a small Capstone gas-turbine and a generator powering the highway tractor with electric motors. (Jaguar and others are also testing micro-turbine hybrids)

It may not the best looking truck yet, but it's a start. The companies connected with this project are certainly among the best in the industry: Paccar owns Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF in Europe.

The AirFlow Truck Company and Great Dane Trailers claim that "the average truck uses 50 percent of its fuel just to push air out the way." By streamlining tractor-trailers, AirFlow says, a fleet of 'BulletTrucks' could save many million gallons of fuel and millions of tons of toxic exhaust emissions...annually.

If all Class 8 trucks, or 18-wheelers, in North America were so efficient, the trucking industry would consume nearly 330 billion fewer barrels of oil and spend nearly $33 billion less on fuel each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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