In the 1985 movie Back To The Future, Canadian actor Michael J. Fox travels through time in a plutonium-powered DeLorean time machine. In the last scene, inventor Doc Brown shows up with a reboot of the DeLorean powered by a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor that converts trash to energy for the vehicle.
Although no trash-powered vehicles or time machines were mentioned at the 19th annual Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) in Chicago this spring, some of the on-market and near-market technologies featured would seem as futuristic and far-fetched as Doc Brown’s time machine.
The two-day educational and networking event brings together industry leaders and experts to discuss issues and trends affecting the worldwide automotive aftermarket and influencing its future. This year covered topics from telematics to alternative fuels and the economic outlook to investments in the aftermarket by Wall Street and private equity.
Fuel For Thought
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations in the United States are driving automakers to produce cars with higher fuel economy and lower emissions. The demands are driving more OEMs to develop alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and seek to launch them in Canada and the entire global marketplace.
First, let me assure you that although there are many alternative fuel technologies vying to become number two in North America, the consensus at GAAS seemed to be that nearly all the cars coming to your shop for the next five to 10 years will be still running on gasoline or diesel — with a few hybrids thrown in the mix.
There are several reasons for this: there’s still a big development curve; consumers are a bit wary of unproven technology; and there is no infrastructure for providing many alternative fuels. Besides, even if a “trash-powered car” came to market tomorrow and was snatched up by tens of thousands of consumers, the OEM warranty would cover it for several years before you would need to train and tool-up for it.
Derek Kaufman, CEO of Mission Motors (www.ridemission.com), an electric powertrain engineering consulting group, covered the current state of a list of alternative fuel technologies currently in development. Here is a summary of his take on two of these fuel sources:
“It will change our industry,” says Kaufman. “One of the things about natural gas is the supply of it. But the other thing is that it [costs] US$1.50 basically a gallon [less] than both gasoline and diesel. So trucking has already adopted this. They’ve gone CNG for local fleets and LNG for the long-haul fleets.”
CNG (compressed natural gas) and LNG (liquefied natural gas) have been used in the transportation industry for about 15 years and have proven easy-to-use, safe and reliable.
But for automotive use, there are different considerations, says Kaufman. “It’s all about the cost of natural gas compression and the tankage on the vehicle. If you look at an engine, a natural gas fuel system is not wholly different than a gasoline system or a diesel system. But the tankage on the vehicle is everything.”
“Think about the fact that 50 per cent of our homes have natural gas in them,” continues Kaufman. “With a US$500 compressor, people like GE and Eaton and Phill now are bringing out machines to put on your garage wall, bring your natural gas car in, and basically fill [a vehicle] overnight just the way a Tesla owner charges their car overnight.”
On the commercial front, GE is developing “CNG in a box” technology. CNG in a box is a 400 horsepower high-speed reciprocating compressor and it fills a car at 12.5 gallons per minute.
“That’s basically what a gasoline pump does at any station,” said Kaufman.
A Honda CNG vehicle with an eight-gallon tank gets about 38 miles per gallon and will go 300 miles on a tank of natural gas.
“But I think the thing for the auto aftermarket to watch now is actually ANG [adsorbed natural gas],” Kaufman said. “That stores the natural gas in some kind of porous medium, typically activated carbon. That increases the efficiency and it decreases the tank size. And it decreases the 3,600 PSI tank down to about 500 PSI … so watch for ANG in the future.”
Electric / Battery
Battery technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds. Projections are that advancement in technology will continue to bring cost down and capacity up. All electric and hybrid vehicles have seen a quicker adoption in Europe.
“About 25 per cent of Europe is start/stop now,” says Kaufman. “I would refute that just a little bit. I’d say it’s closer to 30, 35 per cent, going for 40 per cent. They have adopted it very well. We’re going to adopt it well, simply for the fuel economy that it represents. So I would say that will be on our platforms going forward.”
“The other thing that we’ll be joining is inductive charging,” says Kaufman. “That is a coil in your floor in your garage, but it’s also a coil in the road that can charge electric cars at stoplights. In fact, Seoul, Korea, already has buses running on an inductive loop. So the bus is not connected to any electrical source at all. There’s about a six-inch gap between the coils in the road and the bus that’s running this city loop.”
In the world of luxury electric cars, Tesla is the king. In 2013, the Tesla model S outsold Mercedes S, the BMW 7 and the Audi 8, according to Kaufman. What makes the Tesla story interesting is that they have had this success by going outside traditional auto dealer channels and have gone direct sales.
“So does electric drive represent a disruption for our industry?” asks Kaufman. “Yes, it does, because it allows you to decouple the powertrain of a vehicle. You can put the power source anywhere on the vehicle that you want now with electric drive. And that means that you can change the way that you look at maintenance and service of a vehicle.”
Hydrogen powered vehicles “convert the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy either by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors,” says Wikipedia.
The leading automotive technology today seems to be the fuel cell. The fuel cell vehicle is basically an electric vehicle that uses fuel cells to produce the electricity.
Kaufman only touched briefly on hydrogen, mentioning a hydrogen powered vehicle testing project launching in the year ahead.
“In spring of 2015, Hyundai will introduce the Tucson SUV with a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain,” says Kaufman. The Tucson is a 134-horsepower fuel cell with a 100-kilowatt motor and a 1.4-kilowatt hour battery. The battery is basically there as a power boost when passing, says Kaufman.
The Tucson will be available exclusively in California with 1,000 vehicles in the launch and 22 facilities participating. What’s interesting about the project, says Kaufman, is that Hyundai will be giving free hydrogen to anyone leasing the vehicle for $499 a month.
Phil Sasso is president of Sasso Marketing Inc. (www.sassomarketing.com), a technical marketing agency providing advertising, public relations, and promotional services to tool and equipment marketers.