From The Lab to Your Wallet: Engine Advances Are Saving Consumers Money

It’s a cool time to be an engineer ‚Äì especially if you work on engines.

As a Michigan resident and a PhD candidate in engineering , I can see first hand how a renewed focus on fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions is driving cutting-edge research, both in academia and the private sector.

I’m working on a research project comparing different engine strategies. This work will help determine the potential of highly efficient gas and ethanol-powered engines to reduce tailpipe and life cycle emissions. A lot of my friends are working on their degrees by doing fuel economy and emissions research for auto manufacturers and suppliers ‚Äì the kind of projects that are really good for getting a job when you graduate.

What’s really cool is that we’re not only in the right place to get a great start on our careers. We’re also solving real world problems, like reducing our country’s need for imported petroleum. And curbing the pollutants that are known to cause smog or tailpipe smoke, not to mention the greenhoues gases that contribute to global warming.

All in a day’s work: On top of all that, a new report from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) shows that the work we’re doing on fuel economy is paying off for consumers ‚Äì right now today, not at some point in the future. We’re talking real money: Buying a 2012 vehicle can save a driver thousands of dollars, when compared to previous, less fuel-efficient models.

The chart below illustrates one of my favorite parts of “A Key Step to Ending America’s Oil Addiction,” released on July 16th. CFA analyzed the cost of vehicles and their components, and found that compared to similar models from ten years earlier, buyers of 2012 models of popular vehicles like the Chevy Malibu and Ford F-150 are spending a few hundred dollars more for fuel economy improvements. But the fuel economy savings over a six-year period are more than $5,300 for the F-150 and more than $2,800 for the Malibu.

Source: Consumer Federation of America, “”A Key Step to Ending America’s Oil Addition,” July 2012

Savings start now: This isn’t one of those deals where you have to wait months or years to earn back the money you paid up front. Because drivers buy gas every week, you don’t have to wait long ‚Äì not even 30 days ‚Äì to realize the savings of driving a car that sips gas instead of guzzling it.

[T]he proposed higher fuel economy standards will lower the cost of driving from the first month because the reduction in gasoline expenditures is greater than the increase in the monthly payment to cover the cost of fuel saving technology.

It’s fun going to the lab every day to work on tangible problems, like figuring out how to use direct gas injection and turbocharging to get the most power out of the smallest possible engine. It’s even more fun seeing your work go from the lab into real-world production (which is happening faster than ever these days). And knowing that you’re not only helping the environment, but also helping hard-pressed consumers get some relief at the gas pump.

Anne Marie Lewis, a mechanical engineer with a focus on internal combustion engine research, works on the Michigan Clean Cars Campaign for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.


Opinion and Analysis