Driving Automotive Innovation

On Tuesday, September 13, 2016 the ICCT hosted a half-day conference in the Hart Senate Office building. The event was supported by the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association (MECA), the Advanced Engine Systems Institute (AESI), and the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars (USCADC). Senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley served as honorary co-hosts.

Three panels discussed modern innovations and implementations of (primarily gasoline) engine efficiency technologies. Most of the technologies presented were not considered by EPA and NHTSA in 2012 when the 2017-2025 light duty CAFE/GHG rule was finalized, and the remainder have improved beyond the expectations written in the rule.

The conference brought together 10 major non-OEM companies that are working to provide the technologies necessary to meet or exceed the 2017-2025 fuel efficiency and GHG targets: AVL, BorgWarner, Bosch, Continental, Corning, Eaton, FEV, Honeywell, Johnson Matthey, and Umicore. This willingness to discuss technology progress in front of policy-makers is unprecedented from major suppliers; and they faced a challenge to reach a lay audience in as meaningful and non-technical way as possible.

The panelists focused on the tangible results of innovations: cost reductions and efficiency improvements. For example, speakers from Eaton and FEV discussed the big efficiency gains possible with new improvements in naturally aspirated engines. Speakers from Honeywell, BorgWarner, and Continental discussed improved turbocharged and downsized engines, and the inexpensive techniques to squeeze greater efficiency from these engines.

In the first of two keynote addresses, Admiral Dennis Blair emphasized that vehicle efficiency benefits extend beyond regulatory compliance. They reduce (foreign) oil dependency and improve energy security, thereby enhancing economic stability. Future innovations, including more electrification, autonomous, and shared vehicles, only further this cause. The second keynote speaker, David Friedman, the Acting Assistant Secretary at the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, reiterated the high value of vehicle efficiency, noting that this past summer, for the first time, the transportation sector emitted more carbon dioxide than the electric power sector. His office estimates that $1 billion dollars in research on combustion and vehicle technologies leads to up to $70 billion dollars in benefits to society and the economy.

The economic and environmental importance of research, development, and production by automotive suppliers is often overlooked. Indeed, according to recent reports, suppliers’ technological and value addition to the market is growing. Suppliers directly employed over half a million people in 2014 (the latest year for which figures are available). Suppliers employ around 40% of all R&D scientists/engineers in the auto industry. Together, direct employment by suppliers plus indirect employment supported by the spending and income of direct and indirect employees contributes around 3.1 million jobs in the U.S. (and millions more globally). This level of employment equates to over $165b and 1% of the total private economy. Put more succinctly, every job in the supplier sector leads to about 5 additional jobs throughout the economy.

Of course, the effects extend beyond than the immediate economic impacts. As highlighted by the keynote addresses, automotive technological innovation supports national energy security, economic stability, and tremendous environmental benefits.

The conference complemented a collaboration between ICCT and auto industry suppliers to identify and assess key trends and developments in light-duty vehicle efficiency technologies since the evaluations performed by the U.S. EPA and NHTSA in 2011–2012 as part of the rulemaking for the 2025 CAFE standards. The results of that collaboration between the ICCT and suppliers are being published in a series of working papers. The ICCT is also publishing a set of accompanying technical briefs, which set the technology trends more directly in the context of the ongoing midterm evaluation of the 2025 CAFE standard.

The working papers and their accompanying briefs discuss technological developments in naturally aspirated gasoline engines, turbocharged and downsized gasoline engines, transmissions, lightweighting, thermal management, advanced diesel engines, and hybrid vehicles. Due to similarities and synergies in the advanced technology of naturally aspirated, turbo-downsized, and advanced diesel engines, the conference focused its panels on these types of engine improvements.

Given the positive feedback on the event and reception afterwards, additional similar events focusing on other technology innovations, such as vehicle design and lightweighting, advances in transmissions, automotive thermal management, and battery and electric vehicle developments are under consideration.

Honorary co-hosts: Senator Ed Markey and Senator Jeff Merkley




John German and Aaron Isenstadt