The engineers who succeed in building a mid-sized family car that gets 80 mpg - the goal of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles - should immediately be put to work resolving the $5 trillion national debt.
Fixing long-standing public largess takes the same methodical snip-and-tuck approach as solving the wasteful appetites of the automobile. That's because the waste is widespread, and no matter how much one part is squeezed for efficiency - whether it's an engine or federal arts funding - the inefficiencies of the rest of the machine keep slurping down resources.
To demonstrate, Vince Fazio, director of Ford Motor's Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles effort, recently traced the energy use of an average 2000-model mid-sized sedan by tracing the consumption of a gallon of regular unleaded. One gallon of gasoline has 158,000 BTUs of heat energy, enough for a modern gas furnace to heat a typical three-bedroom house comfortably for more than five hours on a 32-degree day.
If all that energy represents 100 percent, Fazio says, the following amounts must be subtracted as losses before the car's wheels start turning:
66 percent for engine losses. The huge hit includes friction of the internal parts, the 'pumping losses' as the pistons move gases into and out of the cylinders, incomplete burning of the fuel, and the lost energy in the heat dissipated through the cylinder walls and exhaust. There are fixes: A turbocharger can put some of that exhaust heat to use, and mechanical upgrades, such as roller finger-follower valve lifters reduce friction.
11 percent for idling. Hybrid powertrains such as those offered by Honda and Toyota shut down at idle to conserve the precious BTUs wasted at red lights.
2 percent for accessories. Driving the air conditioner compressor, power steering pump and alternator are big jobs. Accessories driven by electric motors promise relief, but they demand extra kilowatts from the electrical system.
6 percent for driveline losses. An automatic transmission's torque converter and internal pump sap energy. New auto-shifting manuals fare better.
Thus, fully 85 percent of the energy in a gallon of gasoline never makes it to the wheels. Here's where the rest of the energy goes, Fazio says:
11 percent to overcoming aerodynamic and rolling resistance. A slippery shape and low-resistance tires help here.
4 percent to braking. The heat generated by brakes represents wasted energy. Some hybrid designs recover some of that energy through regenerative braking, a technique that switches the drive motor into an electrical generator during braking to recharge the batteries.
The 80-mpg car needs engineers to leave no stone unturned in the search for waste. When they're done, let's send them to Washington.