Semiconductors Drive Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011, 12:00am

by David Isaacs, Vice President, Government Affairs

Recently, the President announced new fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles, that will require cars in model year 2025 to meet a performance standard equivalent to 54.5 mpg while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile. Further, for the first time ever beginning in 2014, commercial vehicles such as trucks, buses, and other medium and heavy duty vehicles, will be required to meet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards.  The goal behind these initiatives is to save consumers and businesses money, reduce our dependence on oil, and protect the environment.

Our industry is specifically encouraged by these new initiatives, of course because of the positive environmental impacts, but also because the move to use increasingly “smart” and “green” technology is a platform to demonstrate the innovative and powerful technology from America’s semiconductor manufacturers and designers. Not surprisingly, semiconductors are increasingly present in vehicles and are a significant driver of fuel efficiency gains.  According to a report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), semiconductors play a substantial role in improving powertrain efficiencies in optimizing gasoline engines with such features as SIDI (Spark Ignition, Direct Injection), V.V.T. (Variable Valve Timing), Combined Combustion, and Turbo/Super-charging. 

Additional reports predict that the “amount of semiconductors in vehicles will increase 15 percent in 2011, as more high-tech electronics safety and communications systems get designed into mid-range car models”. This is a growth trend that we believe will continue well into the future as consumers demand increasingly innovative safety and “green” technologies in vehicles. 

Innovations made possible by the semiconductor industry are truly changing the way that Americans drive and these innovations are having an enormous positive impact on the environment.

  • Semiconductor sensor innovations can measure a tire’s pressure and communicate the information to the dashboard, which is important because fuel efficiency is reduced by one percent for every three pounds per square inch that the tire is underinflated.

  • Semiconductors can also “network” an automobile’s electrical system and avoid separate wiring from the locks, windows, mirror, seats, lights, and other devices to their respective switches, reducing the weight of a car as much as 60 pounds.
  • Semiconductors make possible the use of global positioning systems (GPSs), sensors, and on-board communications equipment that help drivers maintain efficient speeds and find the least congested routes to their destination, thereby conserving fuel.

Semiconductors play an even more significant role in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles, which are expected to comprise a growing portion of our vehicle fleet and will help reduce overall fuel consumption.  For example, hybrid vehicles utilize regenerative braking and start-stop systems designed to reduce fuel consumption and have substantially higher semiconductor content compared to regular passenger cars.  Electric vehicles have an even higher level of semiconductor content.

The ongoing effort to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, as well as the growing role of hybrid electric and all-electric vehicles, will likely create significant market opportunities for the semiconductor industry. But more importantly, through the application of semiconductors this industry has an important role to play in driving energy efficiency throughout our society. 

For more information on what the electronics industry is doing to promote clean energy innovation across every sector of our nation’s economy visit SIA partner, Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC).