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Driving Today

Stop-start Just Starting

Although few U.S. vehicles now have this fuel-saving technology, millions will have it by 2020.

Although automotive stop-start technology is virtually unknown in North America today -- with the exception of some hybrid vehicles -- a new study says the technology is the wave of the near future. The benefits it provides in terms of fuel economy and emission reduction make the shift toward such vehicles inevitable, according to Pike Research, which tracks high-tech auto developments.

A stop-start system ensures that a vehicle’s gasoline engine will turn off when the vehicle stops, and that the engine will start right up again when the driver is ready to proceed. Driven by efforts to meet mandated increases in fuel economy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, automakers have begun to introduce stop-start vehicles over the last decade, and the technology goes under a number of aliases, including “micro-hybrids” and “idle-stop vehicles.” No matter what name they go under, cars and trucks that use this technology typically offer 5 to 10 percent reductions in both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. There is a cost: Vehicles using the technology require more robust batteries and starter systems than are found in conventional internal-combustion-engine vehicles. But compared to a full hybrid system, the cost is minimal and is quickly recovered by fuel savings.

According to a Pike Research report, sales of stop-start vehicles will grow rapidly in the coming decade, rising from 3 million units in 2011 to 37.3 million units per year by 2020. By the end of the decade, a total of 186 million vehicles globally will incorporate the technology, which will become standard on the majority of vehicles sold in Europe as well as on dozens of models in North America and Asia. The fastest-growing region for stop-start-vehicle sales will be North America, where annual sales will roughly double each year from 2011 through 2020.