Cutting down on fuel consumption and emissions is costly, and that’s why automakers are fighting excessive regulation. And listening to them, it might seem as if all conventional ways to improve fuel economy have been exhausted. Downsizing often requires new engine generations, and, of course, forced induction of some sort. Beyond that, things get really expensive when manufacturers begin to move toward electrification. But there is some good news not only for the corporate bean counters, but also for customers: There’s still a lot of potential in the conventionally powered car, as evidenced by a Ford Escape that’s been optimized for improved fuel efficiency by the North American engineering bureau of German supplier Schaeffler using near-volume-production pieces.

To demonstrate the impact of a number of small optimizations, Schaeffler deliberately picked a contemporary crossover that’s generally hailed for its efficiency: the Ford Escape with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Designed as a showcase vehicle for the North American market, Schaffler chose an all-wheel-drive version equipped with a torque-converter automatic—characteristics that are popular with American shoppers.

The largest improvement in the EPA city cycle, a whopping six percent, is achieved by a stop-start system. Integrated into the gearbox, the stop-start system offers performance that is superior to current systems, especially in sudden change-of-mind situations, where the system disengages and re-engages the engine in an extremely short period of time. An improved torque converted results in a further city-cycle gain of three percent. The most impressive savings come on the highway cycle, which sees a six-percent improvement thanks to a system that decouples the rear axle when it’s not in use—the same system provides a two-percent improvement in the city, too.


  • Comparison Test: 2013 Ford Escape vs. 2012 Honda CR-V, 2012 Hyundai Tucson, 2012 Kia Sportage, 2013 Mazda CX-5, 2012 Toyota RAV4 
  • Comparison Test: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI vs. 2011 Touareg Hybrid
  • Feature: Fun at 40 MPG

Relatively minor improvements such as friction-optimized wheel bearings, valvetrain, and belt drive add up to considerable additional savings; the same is true of re-engineered thermal management and automatic grille shutters. Altogether, the efficiency gains amount to 14 percent on the highway and 15 percent in the city.

The cost of the improvement, Schaeffler tells us, is estimated at less than $40 per percentage point saved. “It is a very good value proposition,” says Peter Gutzmer, head of R&D at the supplier. That is certainly true, especially when compared to hybridization or advanced lightweight technology.

By Jens Meiners

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