Stop-start systems rolling out on more cars

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Get ready for the engine in your next car to shut off at stoplights, even if you don’t like it.

Pressed to meet tougher fuel-economy and pollutions standards, automakers increasingly are adding engine stop-start systems across their lineups. The systems automatically turn off engines at stoplights and instantly restart them once a driver takes his or her foot off the brake pedal.

The technology is designed to keep your lights, air conditioning, heater and radio running while the engine is cut during a stop. The engine stays on if you turn the steering wheel, if you’re stopped on a steep hill, the engine is still warming up, or the heater or air conditioner are working hard to maintain a desired temperature.

Stop-start technology is relatively inexpensive for automakers to install — costing an estimated $300 — and provides a decent fuel economy benefit, typically ranging up to 4 percent or 5 percent. Automakers say the benefit can be higher if a driver does a lot of city driving. And automakers benefit, too, as they can receive credits toward meeting federal fuel economy regulations if they put start-stop systems on their vehicles.

By the end of the year, IHS Markit forecasts that slightly more than 15 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. will be equipped with stop-start, up from 5.7 percent in 2013 and 7.5 percent in 2014.

“Five years from now, we’re expecting about 65 percent take rate on stop-start,” said Paul Lacy, senior manager of Americas powertrain and compliance forecasting for the firm.

Experiences with stop-start vary. Some drivers find them noisy and the restart vibration somewhat jarring, and opt to turn it off — when they can. Others don’t even realize they have it. And some enjoy how quiet the car can be while sitting in traffic with the engine off.

Those who drive them a first time may believe the car has stalled.

“People, when they see it for the first time, may be kind of startled by it, and it’s something unusual that they haven’t experienced,” said Jeff Lux, vice president of transmission powertrain for FCA North America. “But I think if they give it a chance, they really come to appreciate it, that ‘Hey, why should I be burning fuel when I’m sitting at the stoplight when I don’t have to be?’ ”

Daniel Mitchell, 55, of Middletown, Ohio, first experienced stop-start on a 2014 Chevrolet Malibu.

“It took some getting used to,” said Mitchell, recalling those first few drives.

But Mitchell said he knew about the gas-saving technology and having that knowledge has helped with acceptance. He recently traded in the ’14 Malibu to lease a 2016 Malibu, which also has stop-start.

“It saves me gas, so I’m fine with that,” he said.

Some automakers allow consumers to turn off the systems by pressing a button. Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, for example, let drivers decide if they want to deal with it.

Some General Motors Co. vehicles equipped with the system don’t have the capability to be turned off, but the automaker did provide that option for its Cadillac rear-wheel drive vehicles with the technology. Greg Browning, a stop-start engineer at GM, said the noise and vibration is more noticeable with rear-wheel drive.

“One of our concerns was the noise and vibration, the feel to the customer on that and we wanted to give them an option,” Browning said.

GM, like other automakers, is using customer feedback and complaints to fine-tune and tweak stop-start to operate more smoothly. The systems typically include two batteries, one of which is enhanced; advanced starter motor; a special transmission pump; and sensors.

GM has improved start-ups, decreased engine vibration and has changed engine and transmission mounts “so there’s less feel to the customer,” Browning said.

The automaker also has made refinements to how air conditioning operates during an auto-stop. Engineers have boosted fan speeds to keep cars cool during stops. And it’s changed when the system decides to shut off or not, including the hottest August days.

“We try to anticipate what’s going to happen in the interior cabin,” Browning said. “If it’ll get warm too quickly, we won’t do an auto-stop there.”

BMW, which equips all of its U.S. vehicles with engine stop-start, also is working on refinements. The new 5 Series, due in the spring, will have an updated system that reduces noise and the “rumbling back to life” vibration, said Rich Steinberg, head of product planning for BMW in the U.S.

BMW also will use sensors, cameras and GPS to help determine when a car should restart. For example, a camera may notice a traffic light change and turn the engine back on before a driver lifts a foot off the brake.

“It’s using intelligence to reduce the amount of interference, or actually improve the experience, to get the engine running,” Steinberg said.

Ford, which was the first domestic automaker to offer stop-start — on the 2013 Fusion — is expanding its roll-out to F-150s with EcoBoost engines.

Ford has committed to applying the technology across 70 percent of its product-line volume by 2018. GM and Fiat Chrysler say they plan to substantially increase use of stop-start.

Toyota’s first use of engine stop-start comes on the 2017 Highlander, while Honda has a system on certain Pilot SUVs. Mazda doesn’t have any vehicles with start-stop in the U.S., though a spokesman said it’s exploring it for here.

To help consumers understand the feature, carmakers are working with dealers. Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Honda have posted YouTube videos or have videos on their websites.

Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep vehicles with stop-start have a window sticker with instructions. Drivers will see a green “A” with a rotating arrow light up in the instrument panel when the system is activated.

Ford said stop-start feature information is included on a tag inside 2017 F-150 pickups.

Stop-start models

Ford: Fusion with 1.5-liter EcoBoost; Focus 1-liter EcoBoost; Edge with 2-liter twin-scroll EcoBoost; Escape 1.5-liter and 2-liter twin-scroll EcoBoost; F-150 2.7-liter EcoBoost; 3.5-liter EcoBoost; high output 3.5-liter EcoBoost

GM: Chevrolet Cruze, Cruze Hatchback, Malibu, Impala; Buick Encore, Envision and LaCrosse; GMC Acadia; Cadillac ATS, CTS, CT6 and XT5; coming on 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Fiat Chrysler: Ram light-duty 1500 pickup with 3.6-liter V-6; Jeep Cherokee with 3.2-liter V-6; Jeep Grand Cherokee with 3.6-liter V-6; Dodge Durango with 3.6-liter V-6; Alfa Romeo Giulia; coming early next year to Chrysler Pacifica minivan with 3.6-liter V-6 and Alfa Romeo Guilia with 2.9-liter V-6

Source: Automakers, Detroit News research