Give it Some Gas

Dec 3, 2009

I’ve got more mail in my e-mailbox touting fuel-saving devices, additives, pods, pills, treatments, you name it, than I’ve seen in months. This must be what it’s like for doctors being pursued by pharmaceutical reps.

Some of these remedies tout a 3%-5% fuel savings, others 5%-10%, still others as much as 50%. Hey, at what we’ve been paying at the pump, I’m really attracted to cutting fuel expenditures from my vehicles by half.

Yep, I’m all for the good ol’ days, say April 1996, when gasoline nationwide was about $1.40 a gallon, nearing $2 a gallon in some places, and consumers from sea to shining sea cried “price gouging!” Back then, then-President Clinton opted to release in the neighborhood of 12 million barrels of the U.S.’ strategic petroleum reserve with the idea that more supply would ebb the rising cost at the pump. 1996 was a major election year; the GOP owned Congress and the Dems had the presidency – all of the politicos determined they had to offer something to the public.

But that was then; this is now. How can one compare the two?

Today we have mileage extenders. Lots of them.

Now, I’m not the one who’s going to cast a sideways glance at even one of these fuel-saving gadgets whose promotions seem to have mushroomed in my e-mail box because, frankly, some come with pretty impressive paperwork or other credentials. Yes, some of it’s just good ol’ Yankee marketing, but each of these promos has its message to get out.

There always have been such devices and additives that have proven to increase mileage and have the proven history to prove it. I applaud those, but always wonder why the oil companies haven’t added the additives that make gas and diesel fuel much more mileage-friendly, and why the car makers had for so long not devised the devices that would give even the big cars, trucks and SUVs MPGs in the upper 30s and 40s.

Where’s the collaborative effort? The automakers already rely on the $1 trillion OEM-supplier market to produce the parts they don’t, which accounts for as much as 2/3 of a vehicle’s manufacturing. In 10 years, it’s expected that OEM suppliers will handle 3/4 of the content of a vehicle’s makeup. It’s from these people where the real innovation comes.

The Society of Automotive Engineers talks about how all manner of items from employing ceramics to changing a drive axle’s bearings can increase fuel economy using the former, energy savings in the latter. In many cases, it’s all about reducing friction. Even the U.S. Department of Energy thinks that low-friction parts could save 100 million barrels of oil annually; and fuel economy could be improved 13%-16%, said GM’s engine development director, Michael Anderson.

So, why now all the attention, all the innovation? Simply because an unexpected, out-of-left-field oil supply and demand shifted the market and boosted the cost of a barrel? No one saw this coming?

Of course folks saw it coming: Supply, demand, speculation and all of the other factors leading to sharply rising fuel prices were (and continue to be) in the works. And so were the devising of so many aftermarket fuel-saving products. Their promos may have mushroomed in my e-mailbox, but the devices certainly didn’t mushroom overnight.

We and our industry are thankful that we have such an increasing number of aftermarket fuel-saving products available to us to provide to fuel-conscious consumers. Those consumers look to the aftermarket pros for advice and action.