This Earth Day, we have a lot to celebrate as the auto industry takes strides to become more eco-friendly. With major manufacturers like Volvo pledging to only produce hybrid or fully-electric vehicles after 2019, the handwriting is on the wall for traditional, combustion-only vehicles. In 2017, the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers reported that electric vehicles comprised about 1.2% of all sales with that figure rising to 2% in 2018. Despite current efforts to roll back Obama-era emissions standards, automotive manufacturers are forging ahead with technological developments designed to improve fuel economy and reduce the carbon footprint of their products.
So, if you're in the market for a new vehicle and are looking to make a more eco-friendly choice, there’s much to be excited about. In fact, many eco-friendly features now come standard on new vehicles, so chances are your next new car will be more eco-friendly than your last.
Manufacturers continue to attack vehicle weights from all sides in order to squeeze as much out of their performance as possible. It's pretty simple; a lighter car is easier to move, which means its engine needs less power to move it. Manufacturers turn to lighter-weight, recycled metals for construction, remove excess weight like spare tires and tools by replacing them with flat repair kits, and opt for lighter-weight, cloth interiors. Together with aerodynamic improvements, the weight reduction efforts of manufacturers have resulted in greatly improved fuel efficiency and shrunken carbon footprints all around.
Improved sensors have done a great deal to make our vehicles more eco-friendly. Emissions sensors monitor fuel consumption to reduce smog and improve air quality, alerting drivers to performance issues or faulty parts as soon as they arise. Additionally, many vehicles now come standard with radar sensors designed to assist drivers. Radar sensors help identify objects in blind spots, alert drivers to oncoming collisions, and in some cases, automatically apply brakes to avoid crashes. Not only do radar sensors save lives, but they also help keep vehicles from becoming totaled in an accident, keeping hazardous components out of landfills.
As vehicles become more computer-like, on-board displays and computer systems present drivers with more information than ever before about the current state of their vehicles. Displays can now communicate an electric vehicle's charge state, deliver real-time fuel efficiency stats, and help drivers monitor their own driving efficiency. The effect of these systems is that drivers are now more aware of how their driving habits impact their environment in real time and they help shape driving behaviors to be more eco-friendly.
Hybrid engines, while not a new development, are still one of the greatest contributors to eco-friendly vehicles. They allow them to switch between electric and gas-powered operation, greatly increasing fuel efficiency and miles per gallon. For drivers reluctant to switch to a fully-electric vehicle due to lack of public charging stations or limited driving range, a hybrid vehicle bridges that gap nicely. Additionally, unlike traditional combustion engines which typically see their best fuel efficiency at highway speeds, hybrid engines actually see better MPG in stop-and-go traffic where they can rely on the electric motor while idling.
These are just a few of the ways manufacturers are tackling the impact of vehicle ownership on the environment, but there are many ways that drivers can help too. Switching to LED lights, paying attention to negative driving habits, performing regular maintenance, ensuring tires are always properly inflated, and reducing use of air conditioners are just a few of the small ways drivers can do their part to make even an older vehicle more eco-friendly this Earth Day.