GREEN WHEELING – The Path to Taking the Eco-Route

On the path to green, drivers are looking for a miracle. They want cars that use less fuel while providing exactly the same performance, comfort, safety and capability as their current vehicles — with no changes in driving habits. Oh, and car companies shouldn’t charge extra green cars.
These magical cars are not in the offing. Manufacturers, however, are working to wring out additional efficiency while still meeting customers’ demands for space, flexibility, and acceleration.
Ford has hit on an idea to help drivers save gas, without downsizing their rides or forcing them to employ hyper-mile fuel economy tricks, like drafting behind trucks or coasting down hills.
The MyFord Touch driver information system offers a technology called Eco-Routing, which is now being incorporated into a slew of new models starting with the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers.
MyFord Touch conveys turn-by-turn data through a display on the instrument panel, even when they lack the optional on-board-style navigation in the middle of the dashboard. Such nav systems normally offer drivers a choice of the shortest route or one the computer believes is the fastest route to your destination.
This often means heading to Interstate highways that aren’t direct for a faster trip, or driving old two-lanes clogged with periodic stoplights that might yield a shorter trip. Eco-Route offers a third choice: the greenest route. The promise is that just by driving on the green route drivers can save fuel.
Eco-Route accomplishes this by maximizing the use of major roads where drivers can maintain an efficient rate of speed, according to the company. Following the green advice of Eco-Route can be worth as much as a 15 percent fuel savings, Ford claims. If all Americans were able to boost their fuel economy by 15 percent, it would trim 22 billion gallons of gas from our annual fuel total, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, so it is worth the effort, if Eco-Route really can deliver that kind of savings.
“When drivers use Eco-Route — particularly in combination with MyFord Touch’s fuel-economy feedback and fuel-efficient driving techniques — they can achieve a noticeable increase in fuel efficiency,” said Jennifer Brace-Mezigian, Ford user interface design engineer.
“MyFord Touch not only gives drivers information they can use to improve their driving habits, but also expands on that capability by engaging the navigation system to give drivers a variety of options,” Brace-Mezigian said.
Fifteen percent might be a stretch, but the notion of saving 5 percent using Eco-Route is reasonable, remarked Thilo Koslowski, automotive analyst for market researcher Gartner Inc.
“Ultimately I think there is absolutely appeal from the consumer point-of-view for how to reach the destination the least costly way,” he said.
To achieve improvements of 15 percent will require still more technology, such as real-time traffic information that can let drivers avoid actual traffic problems, rather than just predicting expected traffic flow based on historical patterns.
“I believe that if you would include the most sophisticated Eco-Route technology with traffic and vehicle knowledge, you can probably improve your fuel efficiency by a mile per gallon or two.”
This kind of benefit would be most noticeable to commercial fleet operators, but even regular drivers should appreciate a few more miles per tank, Koslowski said. For 15 percent savings, commuters would probably need to make more dramatic changes to their daily habits, such as shifting their work hours to avoid the worst of rush hour.
“If they can optimize, then you can talk about real improvements of 10 to 15 percent if every route would be optimized.”  This could make a real difference in the country’s total fuel consumption. — Dan Carney, Motor Matters

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