Would You Buy a Car that Doesn't Idle? Mazda Bets that You Will
Would you buy a car that doesn't idle? Not in the sense that it won't stay running under it's own power - although most of us have experienced that 'feature' at some point in our vehicle-owning lives - but rather one that offers an engine that only runs when it is needed to move you forward. This auto-stop feature, where a gasoline engine clicks off when waiting at a stop sign only to instantly fire up with the depression of the accelerator is a common enough feature amongst hybrid automobiles. If Mazda has its way, however, the same type of technology might soon be trickling down into standard passenger cars, trucks and crossovers as well.
A new plan by the Japanese car company purports to make the brand's entire lineup idle-free by the year 2015. This dovetails nicely with Mazda's other 2015 goal, which is to improve the fuel mileage of its portfolio of vehicles by 30 percent. The benefits of eliminating engine idling are easy enough to understand - an engine which is sitting and burning fuel without motivating a vehicle is 100 percent inefficient, not to mention producing harmful emissions with absolutely no benefit. Mazda feels that over time it can come close to matching the fuel savings seen by gasoline / electric hybrid cars through combining its anti-idle technology with improved engine management.
Mazda has already introduced a zero-idle feature in the versions of the Mazda MAZDA3 that it sells in Europe and Asia, and also in one of its minivans. The idea behind the system is that a combination of engine starter power and pre-existing cylinder pressure allow the vehicle's engine to start almost instantly when the accelerator is pushed down. The next generation of the start-stop technology, which is what will be introduced in North America, actually uses engine sensors which monitor cylinder position and manage the order in which spark will be reintroduced. This reduces start-up time to just 0.3 seconds on the soon to be available direct-injection gasoline engines that Mazda has in the pipeline for 2011.
The company says that as many as 50 percent of its vehicles that are available with this option see it installed, at a cost of $500 to the customer. Looking at the fuel economy statistics for these models makes it easy to see why the feature has become so popular overseas, as putting an end to idling can make these vehicles between seven and nine percent more efficient in terms of fuel consumption.
If the Mazda system is so effective at saving drivers money at the pump, then the question becomes why hasn't it already made its way over to the United States? The answer is somewhat political. Japan and Europe test city fuel consumption differently than the Environmental Protection Agency, which hands out the miles per gallon ratings in America. Given that current EPA procedures feature only a single complete vehicle stop while testing what it calls the 'city-mode cycle,' the benefits of the Mazda system are more difficult to quantify to domestic new car buyers.
Mazda, along with a host of other car companies who currently make use of this type of technology, are bringing pressure against the EPA to alter its testing practices to take into account the positive benefits of a zero-idle feature. Automakers such as BMW have also deployed anti-idle features in some of its European models, while Porsche has already made the same technology available in the United States in the Porsche Panamera and the upcoming 2011 Porsche Cayenne. The EPA has indicated that it is willing to hear out the interested parties in terms of retooling the current fuel mileage rating system.
Regardless of what decisions are made at the federal level, Mazda is determined to install anti-idling features in all of its upcoming models. This means that new car buyers will have yet another technology to evaluate when determining which vehicle offers them the best combination of power, convenience and fuel efficiency.