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Cars With Start-Stop Technology Growing in Popularity in Milwaukee

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Cars in a traffic jam in Frankfurt, Germany.

Vehicles sold across the world are becoming more eco-friendly. Technology that turns off your engine at stop lights was first introduced in Europe about a decade ago. Not only does it cut down on emissions, it saves gas and money. Now, start-stop technology is gaining popularity in the states.

So back when I was learning to drive, and no, I’m not going to tell you just how long ago that was, my grandmother always told me that a car uses more gas being turned off and back on, then by just allowing it to run…

“Actually, that was true in your grandma’s day when you had big V8 engines and carburetors slurping fuel down them," David Alexander says. He’s a research analyst for a consulting company called Navigant Research, and he says technology has brought us a long way.

We spoke while he was in England working. He says vehicles are safer, lighter, which helps with fuel efficiency and more and more of them are being equipped with technology that automatically shuts down the engine at stop lights. Alexander says that if you’ve been to Europe recently, chances are, you’ve seen these stops and starts in action because 60 percent of new vehicles sold there are equipped with the technology. He says not so in the U.S.

“In the U.S. it’s been a slow start. The reason for that stop-start, the basic technology works best with manual gear boxes, or a stick shift as you know it in the states. And early versions of stop-start with automatic gear boxes weren’t very smooth and got bad reviews in the American Automotive press,” Alexander says.

I wanted to find out more about the technology and actually see it in action, so I headed over to a car dealership. James Flynt has been selling vehicles for the past 13 years and recently took me out for a ride. He pushes a button to start the car and then we’re off.

Flynt says the start-stop technology is designed to ensure everything is working properly before cycling down the engine, which means that the engine didn’t actually shutdown at a stop until about five minutes into the drive.

“It did it on its own and it’s quieter, the fan isn’t running quite as loud because it slowed down a bit, it’s still running. Everything else is running. The radio is on, so it’s still on. Nothing has changed. You can still do windows, doors, whatever you would normally do in a car,” Flynt says.

To restart, you simply press down on the gas as you normally would. I noticed a slight hesitation and then the faint sound of a car starting, and we were off again.

Researcher David Alexander says for some people, the stopping of the engine might trigger a few flashbacks.

“If you’ve grown up in the past driving old vehicles, the worst thing that could happen when you pulled up to the traffic light was that the car would stall and then you would have problems getting it started again. That brought back memories. The first time I stopped at a traffic light and the engine stopped, I’m like oh dear, somethings gone wrong,” Alexander says.

Maryanne Wright is Vice President of Engineering and Product Development for Johnson Controls. It makes a lot of this technology. She says right now, about 5 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. have this start-stop technology, but by 2020, that number is expected to be around 50 percent.

“So as environmental regulations such as fuel economy emissions become more stringent, particularly in the 2021 to 2025 time frame, technologies like start-stop are going to become very important,” Wright says.

In other words, car companies are looking for ways to up gas mileage due to looming federal government requirements.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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