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Sue Cischke

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Fuel Economy -- More Important Now Than Ever

Posted: 03/28/11 04:17 PM ET

When gas prices go up, it's natural for consumers to start looking at their vehicle's fuel efficiency and ask what the auto industry is doing to improve MPGs.

Fortunately for consumers, auto manufacturers have anticipated a spike in fuel prices for some time. As a result, the industry has been working hard over the past few years to explore ways to improve engines, transmissions, aerodynamics and more - all to help boost fuel economy. As gas prices push $4.50 per gallon in some areas, now is when we start to see automakers' investments in fuel economy really pay off for cost and eco-conscious consumers.

As I have talked about in the past, electrification is a huge priority and opportunity for the industry. The fuel savings and environmental benefits have an enormous amount of potential for consumers around the globe. Electrification, however, is just one small part of a much larger fuel economy equation.

There are at least three other areas that the auto industry as a whole is looking at to improve fuel economy. They include:

• Weight Reduction -Weight reduction combined with powertrain rematching can improve fuel economy up to seven percent. In the early 2000s, vehicles were getting heavier both due to demand for larger vehicles as well as safety reasons. Now new technology in molding allows automakers to decrease overall weight while still maintaining safety.

• Aerodynamics Refinement - Auto manufacturers are working to improve vehicle design to reduce drag and improve MPGs. Subtle changes to the vehicle's body style, including curving an edge or adding a rear lip spoiler, can be key contributors in the reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

• Mechanical Improvement - There are still many improvements that can be made to make internal combustion engines and transmissions more efficient. Ford, for example, is installing a dual dry-clutch PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission that is helping reduce fuel consumption up to 10 percent versus a traditional automatic four-speed transmission.

While no one can predict the future, the automotive industry has to move forward under the assumption that fuel prices will continue to rise. The automakers who invest in innovative technologies to combat environmental and financial concerns around oil and gas prices will be the ones leading the industry of the future. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge and I think you, the consumer, will enjoy reaping the benefits.