There's a tendency in life to look only at the big picture and to not pay as much attention to all the little details that add up along the way.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan, said the automotive industry tends to operate that way. But with the corporate average fuel economy standards in the U.S. now mandated to hit 35.5 mpg by 2016—a full four years ahead of the timetable Congress originally set in 2007—he knows that thinking has to change.
That's why Cole was so impressed by the new automotive seals just introduced by Freudenberg-NOK. While many automotive engineers will look only at the entire engine or powertrain, the new Energy Saving Seal aims new technology at one of the small detail components that are so often taken for granted.
On its own, the new seal will make only a minor dent in the gains car makers need to meet the more stringent CAFE levels. Freudenberg-NOK asserts that the seals could save the nation more than 2 billion gallons of gas a year—but only if every light vehicle in the nation converted all engine, transmission, axle and bearing seals to the ESS technology.
The company knows that such a sea change won't happen, especially over the short term. But when taking a more detailed look at the development, the 1-2 percent mileage improvement an individual vehicle would see—or about 10 gallons of gas a year—isn't something that can be scoffed off as insignificant.
Cole and others know that while auto makers continue to develop hybrid, electric and fuel cell technologies for the cars of the future, most of the major advancements in fuel economy for traditional vehicles have already been made. To make the inroads needed, the car companies will need to put together a package of smaller upgrades that, when added together, will help them reach the gas mileage goals.
It's why the tire makers still continue to work on reducing rolling resistance even though the majority of fuel efficiency gains already have been achieved in this area.
And it's why more firms need to do what Freudenberg-NOK has done—put all of their products under a microscope and see what more can be done. Even when it may not seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.