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Early concept design stage is key to maximising fuel efficiency amongst carmakers

Automotive manufacturers need to make greater use of telemetric and big data streams at the earliest concept stages of vehicle design in order to address concerns surrounding fuel efficiency, says Barry James, Chief Technical Officer of Romax Technology.

Recently, carmakers have clashed with the EU over the impending arrival of tougher fuel efficiency tests. The World Light Vehicle Test Procedure, to be launched in 2017, aims to determine levels of pollutants and CO2 emissions, fuel or energy consumption, and electric range from light-duty vehicles.

Its arrival is expected to see the end of the existing fuel economy test procedure, the New European Driving Cycle or NEDC test, which has come in for a number of criticisms notably the fact that this does not account for real-world driving conditions when assessing efficiency.

Manufacturers have complained that the change "will be an additional burden for the industry". While Mr James agrees that this will be true it is an indication of a deeper problem.

“It’s long been recognised across the automotive industry that the NEDC cycle is not an accurate representation for testing emissions and fuel economy but unfortunately, this is the defined standard in place and therefore the industry can only work to the standard which have been set.

“Carmakers act accordingly to how they are measured and, in light of NEDC, build their technology and processes around this. They have become very effective at optimising performance for NEDC conditions but end up with vehicles whose efficiency drops when applied to real world driving conditions. The gap between predicted an actual performance has more than doubled in the past ten years and customers have noticed.

“The problem is related to the processes used in vehicle design and development. Traditional design tools used by manufacturers tend to focus on efficiency against a single drive cycle and do not account for the robustness of a vehicle’s performance against a basket of drive cycles.

“It is imperative that automotive manufacturers explore all relevant avenues to improve real world fuel efficiency. One of the key problems surrounding this is the difficulty in optimising performance against a broad range of driving conditions.

"The problem is two-fold. Firstly, the data needs to be available on how people drive in different territories, different journey types, different vehicles etc. Second, the design processes need to be able to use this data in the design of new vehicles so that fuel economy robustness can be included at the concept stage.

“Largely this data has not been available but the increasing growth of telemetric and big data will mean vast quantities of information will become readily accessible.

"Further, design tools are being developed that allow this data to be incorporated in the design process so that it can influence vehicle design at the earliest possible opportunity, when it has greatest impact.

James concluded: “Embracing these two developments would dramatically smooth the transition from one drive cycle to another and, more importantly, lead to more robust vehicle fuel economy against real world driving and lower overall CO2 emissions.”