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Ford Adds Start-Stop Technology to its Eco-Arsenal

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author photo by Autotrader December 2010

In order to meet new federal fuel economy standards, Ford–like almost every other automaker–has made hybrids and electric cars a growing part of its future strategy. But Ford has also been making less flashy incremental gains in the efficiency of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles by adding items such as electric power steering, six-speed transmissions and turbocharged EcoBoost engines. Although each of these items adds only a few percent fuel economy improvement on its own, when combined together in one vehicle they can make a big difference.

Now Ford has tacked one more option onto that incremental improvement list and says that starting in 2012 many of its non-hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. will include an option for Auto Start-Stop technology that automatically turns off the engine when the vehicle is stopped and turns it back on instantaneously when the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal.

Ford says that drivers of vehicles equipped with the system should see fuel economy improvements of anywhere from four to ten percent, depending on where and how the vehicles are driven. Richard Truett, Ford’s Powertrain Communications Manager, told AutoTrader.com via email, “Ten percent would be in cases where the driver is constantly in heavy stop-and-go traffic without using the air conditioner or heater.” Ford expects the improvements to be seen in one to two mile per gallon gains listed on the vehicles’ window stickers, added Truett.

“Ford Auto Start-Stop works so fast and so seamlessly, most drivers won’t even notice it is there, though they will notice the benefits in their lower fuel bills,” said Barb Samardzich, Ford’s Vice President of Powertrain Engineering. According to Ford, the system does not require any additional vehicle maintenance, uses an enhanced deep discharge 12-volt battery and upgraded starter motor to make the effect near-instantaneous, and keeps the heater and air conditioner running by circulating engine coolant even while the engine is off–meaning that most drivers likely won’t notice it working.

Auto Start-Stop engine technology may seem like a new concept to many U.S. drivers, but it is already in use on some conventional combustion-engined models Ford sells in Europe, and an older version of it has also been installed on the more than 170,000 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles Ford has sold since 2004–such as the Escape Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid. “Our hybrid owners tell us that start-stop is one of their favorite features,” said Birgit Sorgenfrei, Ford’s Program Manager for Auto Start-Stop. “When the engine is off, they know they are saving fuel and reducing emissions.”

When the technology first reaches the U.S. in 2012, it will be available on gasoline-powered vehicles with both manual and automatic transmission, but will initially only be available in combination with four-cylinder engines that have direct injection–such as the new Ford Focus. Ford says it will slowly roll-out Start-Stop technology to V6 and V8 engines so that by 2015 most models will have the option.

There’s no word on pricing of the Auto Start-Stop option yet, but as Truett said, “It is our intention to make it extremely affordable, so that consumers can quickly recoup the cost of the system.”

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Ford Adds Start-Stop Technology to its Eco-Arsenal - Autotrader