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GM Applies Computer, Lab and Road Testing Expertise To Improve Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

Vehicle Technologies Combined with Smart Driving Lead to Significant Fuel Savings

WARREN, Mich. – General Motors is combining its sophisticated computer modeling capabilities and laboratory and road testing expertise to further improve vehicle fuel efficiency. As a result, GM offers more vehicles that achieve 30 miles-per-gallon or better (Environmental Protection Agency highway label data) than any other manufacturer for 2006. The company provided an overview of its on-going fuel efficiency improvement efforts today during a media briefing at its Vehicle Engineering Center, in Warren, Mich.

Throughout GM’s vehicle development process, engineers attack the areas that will provide the greatest opportunities to increase fuel efficiency including aerodynamics, powertrain, and chassis and electrical systems. GM has been implementing several vehicle technologies to address these opportunities.

These technologies, combined with smart driving, can provide as much as one full tank of gas savings every other month for the fuel-conscious consumer.

Fuel Efficient Vehicle Development

Showcasing GM’s new full-size SUVs, Ed Koerner, vice president of GM North America Engineering, discussed how the company is able to engineer many of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the market.

“Getting the basics right in the development of our vehicles is critical,” said Koerner. “We continue to use our significant technical competency, key fuel efficiency tools, and world-class laboratories to further improve vehicle fuel economy. We know that we must deliver outstanding fuel economy as well as all of the other vehicle attributes that our customers demand.”

GM engineers use a computer-based fuel economy model to determine how energy is used and lost in its vehicles, particularly with powertrain efficiency, chassis system and electrical system losses, mass and aerodynamics. Engine friction, aerodynamic drag and the transmission contribute to the greatest energy losses on combined EPA cycle testing, comprising of nearly 60 percent of the mechanical energy.

“Once we determine where the most significant opportunity for improvement exists, we evaluate how to best optimize fuel energy during the early stages of the design process,” said Koerner. “We use our analytical modeling expertise to help us realize the best solution to improve fuel efficiency while at the same time to allow us to get our vehicles to market faster.”

A key fuel-efficiency enabler for GM is its aerodynamics capabilities that include virtual math tools and a state-of-the-art laboratory. Every GM vehicle undergoes rigorous mathematical analysis and physical testing in the world’s largest automotive aerodynamics lab to optimize aerodynamic shape development, cooling airflow and wind noise reduction. While the most impressive improvements are derived from the powertrain, aerodynamics is the second largest contributor to truck/SUV fuel efficiency.

For example, the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe received an eight percent reduction in aerodynamic drag over the previous model yields a three percent improvement in fuel economy, positioning the vehicle as having the best fuel economy, as well aerodynamic drag, in its class. Drag reduction is achieved by looking at the total vehicle, from front-end shape to the details of air dams to mirrors, roof racks and cross bars.

Fuel Saving Technologies

Once analysis and testing is complete, GM engineers determine where the greatest efficiency gains can be achieved and apply existing or develop new technology.

There are several key powertrain technologies that GM is implementing including engine variable valve timing, Displacement on Demand cylinder deactivation and six-speed transmissions.

As GM works to improve the efficiency of its conventional engines, the same engineering fundamentals are being applied to the integration of its hybrid technology. GM currently offers a hybrid system in its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, the world’s first hybrid pickup trucks. GM will also be implementing two other distinct hybrid systems. A new hybrid system will debut on the Saturn Vue early next year. In addition, GM’s two-mode hybrid system technology will be introduced in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon in 2007.

In addition to these technologies, GM has made a major commitment to E85 flex fuel vehicles in the U.S., with more than 1.1 million vehicles on the road today. E85 fuel consists of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. GM approved the use of 10 percent ethanol blended fuel in all GM products more than 20 years ago and produces five million E10 capable vehicles annually.

Other key GM fuel-saving technologies include:

  • Regulated voltage control (RVC) – GM’s patented RVC technology optimizes alternator load by reducing voltage when the battery reaches 80 percent state-of-charge. RVC extends battery and electrical component life, delivering approximately one percent fuel economy gain. RVC will be featured in more than four million vehicles annually by 2007.
  • Electric cooling fans – replaces engine driven fans, requires less horsepower and produces less noise to deliver a one percent increase in fuel economy. Electric cooling fans will be featured in more than three million vehicles annually by 2007.
  • Variable displacement air conditioner (A/C) compressor – replaces a fixed displacement compressor, allowing it to operate more efficiently, providing a three-five percent increase in fuel economy while using A/C. Variable displacement A/C compressors will be featured in more than two million vehicles annually by 2007.
  • Electric power steering – reduces mechanical losses by eliminating the pump, hoses and hydraulic fluids to deliver a one-two percent increase in fuel economy. Electric power steering will be featured in more than 500,000 vehicles annually by 2007.

According to Roger Clark, GM North America Engineering senior manager of energy and drive quality, in addition to GM’s efforts to improve fuel economy, consumers can play an important role in maximizing the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

“The fuel efficiency of a vehicle depends upon more than the design and content,” said Clark. “Consumer behavior can also have significant impact on the number of miles traveled on a gallon of gasoline. If our customers take advantage of their vehicles’ fuel economy and optimize their own driving behavior, the fuel saving opportunity is significant.”

GM recommends a few key tips that customers could follow to help improve their vehicle fuel economy:

  • Drive the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds. On a typical SUV, for every 10 miles-per-hour average speed increase, you can lose four miles-per-gallon of fuel economy. In addition, for some drivers, using cruise control on the highway could help save as much as 10 percent.
  • Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle - an extra 100 pounds in a vehicle could reduce fuel economy by up to two percent.
  • Keep vehicles properly maintained. For example, replacing a dirty air filter can improve a car's gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Also, regularly check your tire pressure, following the recommended inflation. Gas mileage can be improved by three percent by keeping tires inflated to the proper pressure and tire life may be as much as doubled.

For more information about GM's fuel saving technologies and additional fuel saving tips, visit

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world’s largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader since 1931. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 325,000 people around the world. It has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 200 countries. In 2004, GM sold nearly 9 million cars and trucks globally, up 4 percent and the second-highest total in the company’s history. GM’s global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM can be found at