SPECTRUM: Exposing the Power Vampires in Self-Driving Cars

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Drag from rooftop sensors makes Waymo’s self-driving minivan an energy hog. Photo: Wikimedia/Dllu

By driving smarter, autonomous cars have the potential to move people around and between cities with far greater efficiency. Estimates of their energy dividends, however, have largely ignored autonomous driving’s energy inputs, such as the electricity consumed by brawny on-board computers.

 

First-of-a-kind modeling published today by University of Michigan and Ford Motor researchers shows that autonomy’s energy pricetag is substantial — high enough to turn some autonomous cars into net energy losers.

“We knew there was going to be a tradeoff in terms of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the equipment and the benefits gained from operational efficiency. I was surprised that it was so significant,” says to Greg Keoleian, senior author on the paper published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and director of the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems. Continue reading

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Mazda’s Hybrid-free Strategy of Necessity

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Mazda's Tribute SUV uses Ford technology

How to make sense out of the bewildering differences in strategy by automakers today? In the case of Mazda, which rejects hybrid vehicles as a fad, the strategy may be one of necessity.

Mazda R&D chief Seita Kanai confirmed last week that Mazda still has no plans to commercialize its own hybrid technology, according to a report last week in Automobile Magazine. The Japanese automaker markets a hybrid version of its Tribute, a small SUV, which Automobile  Magazine writes off as a Ford engineered system closely resembling the technology in Ford’s Hybrid Escape. Kanai said Mazda will achieve mandated fuel economy savings by improving engines and transmissions, and by redesigning vehicles to reduce their weight.

But Kanai also admitted at the same event for reporters in Japan last week that Mazda couldn’t afford to field a hybrid. And he acknowledged that the resulting technology gap represented a worrisome problem for the company with buyers enamored of hybrids. Here’s how Kanai put it, according to Automotive News:

“We’re in real trouble,” Kanai said of the rapidly falling hybrid prices. “It’s a threat. We don’t have the resources to get involved in that kind of competition.”

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