Auto Electronics

iSuppli warns that U.S. is falling behind in eco-friendly car electronics

Amid rising fuel costs and higher emissions standards, automakers are developing eco-friendly driving solutions that 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.

But the research firm iSuppli Corp. warns that U.S. automakers are falling behind their foreign counterparts in providing such ecologically oriented features in car navigation and telematics systems.

Furthermore, according to Phil Magney, iSuppli vice president, Automotive Resarch, OEM and aftermarket navigation systems are now providing eco-friendly, fuel-efficient paths as part of route calculation, as opposed to simply presenting the shortest course to a given destination.

Car makers including Audi in Germany, Fiat in Italy, Kia in South Korea and Honda and Nissan in Japan are offering and developing a variety of such solutions. Magney said these efforts are not being matched by their competitors in Detroit.

“Compared to Europe and Asia, the North American market is behind the curve,” Magney said. “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,” he 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.”

Magney added, “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 powertrain control modules to improve the efficiency of vehicles.”

Noting that Miles Per Gallon (MPG) information has been available to drivers via the instrument cluster for many years, Magney said carmakers are now 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, according to Magney. The system is similar to the solution from Japanese OEMs including Honda and Nissan.

The new-generation Honda Accord, for example, features an eco-driving system with an eco-lamp on its instrument cluster. The engine's Engine Control Unit (ECU) calculates 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.

Magney added that Nissan in Japan recently introduced a new Eco Drive function called Eco Pedal that actively monitors fuel consumption and encourages more efficient acceleration by adjusting back pressure on the accelerator pedal. The Eco Pedal function is part of the Eco Drive initiative that Nissan launched in February. Magney said that when connected to Nissan's Carwings telematics service, Eco Drive can rate a driver's fuel efficiency relative to other Carwings users.

Magney noted that Fiat’s Blue&Me-based system records the fuel consumption and emissions of each trip on a USB pen drive for analysis on a home PC, and Audi has a new application that allows drivers to choose the fastest or shortest route and 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. Audi said the feature will be built into the navigation system of its next-generation Multimedia Interface (MMI) slated for the A8, A6, and Q5.

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