Mr. Green Car: Should Rockford be a test track for fuel economy?

September 21, 2011

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

In the last Mr. Green Car (Sept. 9, 2011) I commented on proposed changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE) for 2017-2025. It is well known that how the government determines this “mileage” is not the same as driving around. Also, when you read a window sticker on a new vehicle, or check online at www.fueleconomy.gov, you find the EPA mileage ratings for city, highway and combined average. The website does provide for owner comments, and you often will see higher mileages posted there (people proud of their mileage tend to post while those sour on it do not).

An idea has spun around in my noggin for a long time. Rockford would be a great place to host fuel economy contests — and by extension of logic, to a government standard test track.

While not entirely unique, what Rockford has that would make it ideal for a fuel economy test track is that we have a long urban street with plenty of stoplights — State Street — that usually does not have traffic jams. Rockford also has a limited access highway with a 65 mph speed limit, U.S. 20, that also rarely has severe traffic congestion. Thus, in one loop, starting at West State Street, you can travel eastbound in urban traffic, measuring city fuel economy at the end. Then, get onto the freeway, measuring the highway fuel economy at the return to the start for the first lap — which could then compute the “average” fuel economy of city/highway mileage in very real-world terms. Run in opposite directions on alternating laps to compensate for wind.

For government rating purposes, the manufacturers should be required to do two or four laps to obtain a good true average, and do these three laps during three different seasons (winter, spring/fall and summer), as weather conditions do affect fuel economy. Air conditioner and heater use would be required.

But I don’t think the EPA is going to wake up one day and agree to my plan. What may kick it off is for some entity, such as Rock Valley College, to host some fuel economy contests (to include electric vehicles). With some national attention as “the place to show your stuff,” it may be easier to attract manufacturers to put their vehicles through “The Rockford Test,” then advertise real-world results. Manufacturers may be left out in the cold if they have not done “The Rockford Test” when consumers wonder what they have to hide. The government may then adopt this as a “standard.”

Cool, Rockford is on the green car technology map. Local restaurant and lodging businesses see an increase in customers, and Rockford’s name appears often in publications of all sorts — i.e., “The Chevy Volt achieves 60 mpg in The Rockford Test.”

Corporate sponsorship for the awards in the first phase would be needed — and very beneficial to those tech businesses that partner with the program — for their names may become synonymous with the contest. I.e., “The Rock Valley College/Woodward Governor Fuel Economy Challenge.” All eyes will be on the prize winners.

Any community leaders out there willing to take this on?

From the Sept. 21-27, 2011, issue

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