More cars getting stop-start despite driver resistance

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
  • IHS Automotive predicts 57 percent of cars sold in 2020 will have stop/start features.
  • Only 7 percent of vehicles sold today have stop/start, according to IHS.
  • Ford plans to include stop/start on 40 percent of its models by 2017.

Gas-saving stop-start systems, which turn off the engine when the vehicle isn't moving and restart it when the brake pedal is released, will be standard on more cars and trucks than ever before — whether drivers like it or not.

Automotive industry analysts say the technology improves fuel economy an average of 3.5 percent — and as much as 10-15 percent in cities and heavy stop-and-go traffic.

It's been popular in Europe for years, partly because of customer demand driven by high gas prices. But it has not been a hit in the United States.

Detractors say the feature is annoying and makes them think their cars have stalled when the engine shuts off at a light or stop sign. Southfield-based forecasting firm IHS Automotive says 7 percent of vehicles sold today in the U.S. have stop-start, compared to 60-70 percent in Europe.

But strict federal fuel economy mandates have forced automakers to add stop-start to more vehicles, says Devin Lindsay, senior analyst of North American powertrain forecasting for IHS. He predicts 57 percent of vehicles sold here in 2020 will have the gas-saving technology.

"It's just a a matter of time before the technology gets featured on more vehicles," Lindsay said in an interview. "But from some of the stories I've been told, it's kind of a slightly weird transition, especially if the customer isn't aware."

John Fisher, a 24-year-old from Plymouth, was confused and surprised the first time he experienced the stop-start feature on his 2014 Chevy Malibu.

"I thought something was wrong," he said. "I thought maybe it stalled, but then the engine came back on."

Fisher has owned the car since March, and says he still notices when it kicks in. He likes that it saves gas, but says it can act flukey when he stops to park.

"I'm pretty indifferent about it," he said. "I don't think it helps to where I need it, and it has its fallbacks."

Detroit's Big Three automakers already are increasing use of the technology in their car and truck lineups.

Stop-start is available as a $295 option on the 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine of Ford's 2014 Fusion, and the automaker expects to offer it in 40 percent of its lineup — including the 2015 F-150 pickup — by 2017. And because it will be offered on popular models, it could account for 70 percent of total sales.

"About 10 years from now, there won't be a (new) vehicle that doesn't have stop-start," said Paul Seredynski, Ford's manager of global powertrain technology communications.

Chrysler Group LLC uses stop-start in its Chrysler 200 and the 2015 Jeep Cherokee SUV, and the automaker says it improves fuel economy up to 3 percent. Chrysler debuted the feature in its Ram 1500 pickup.

"It's a great technology, very smooth implementation," Jim Morrison, Jeep marketing director, said in an interview. He said stop-start added a mile per gallon to the Cherokee's total, which is 29 miles per gallon highway on its V-6 engine.

General Motors Co. offers stop-start technology in its Chevrolet Malibu and Impala. Chad Lyons, Chevrolet communications manager, said 95 percent of Malibus sold have stop-start.

Still, the feature can be a hard sell for some dealers.

"There hasn't been a lot of customer interest," said Ray Nabozny, sales manager at Pat Milliken Ford in Redford. "Your average guys coming in aren't really asking for it."

Ford's Seredynski said most customers eventually warm to the feature.

"In our experiences, the people who are not fans of auto stop-start are the people who have never had it," Seredynski said. "Once you try it, you're aware of it for maybe five minutes, then you never think of it again."

Michael Williams, a sales consultant at Southfield Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, said he's sold two Cherokees with the stop-start feature — and those customers asked if it could be turned off. It can.

Williams has been driving a stop-start Cherokee for about a month, and admits even he isn't used to it.

"On the way home the first night I had it, I was wondering 'What the heck is happening?' " he said. "It's a pretty cool feature, but it took some getting used to."

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How it works

Stop-start technology saves gas by shutting off the engine when the car is stopped. Here's how it works:

■When the car comes to a stop, fuel flow is cut off and the engine cuts off.

■The rest of the car's systems — radio, lights, air conditioning, etc. — remain on.

■When the driver lifts a foot from the brake pedal, the engine automatically restarts within a fraction of a second — before the foot even reaches the gas pedal.