Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News
Starting in 2012, Ford Motor Co. will expand the use of technology that shuts off the engine of an idling engine to include more cars and trucks.
Auto Start-Stop technology already is on hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Escape, and on vehicles in Europe with manual transmissions. But the Dearborn-based automaker announced Monday that the fuel-saving feature will be available on most conventional cars and trucks, including those with automatic transmissions.
The goal is to offer start-stop capability on most nameplates in North America by 2015, said Ford spokesman Richard Truett.
Start-stop is poised to spread in North America in the next five years as automakers work to meet increasingly stringent fuel-economy and emissions requirements.
Most automakers offer a form of start-stop technology in Europe because it is affordable — suppliers and analysts estimate the cost as low as $500 — and can improve fuel economy as much as 15 percent. But the systems are almost exclusively offered with manual transmissions.
In North America, fewer than 10 percent of buyers drive a manual, so the technology must be adapted to work with cars most Americans drive.
Ford plans to offer its Auto Start-Stop in gas-powered vehicles with both transmissions in North America, including Ford’s dual-clutch six-speed automatic.
Ford says the system can improve fuel economy 4 to 10 percent, depending on the vehicle and how it is driven.
City driving with multiple stops will yield greater benefits. When a vehicle is stopped, the engine turns off and automatically restarts when the brake is released.
Vehicle functions and accessories such as the radio and climate control continue to operate while the engine is off.
“Ford Auto Start-Stop provides extra fuel efficiency without inconvenience, as it works completely automatically,” said Barb Samardzich, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering.
“And, just like in our hybrid vehicles, the heater and air conditioner work as normal so drivers will not sacrifice comfort.”
The automaker has more than 244 patents on the technology, which will be shown on a concept vehicle to be unveiled next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The only start-stop system offered in the United States today is on the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne, but those vehicles don’t have a traditional automatic transmission.
BMW AG has said the technology will debut on an undisclosed U.S. vehicle with an automatic transmission in 2011.
General Motors Co. introduced a Buick LaCrosse at last month’s Los Angeles auto show with “eAssist” that includes start-stop technology and an electric motor that assists during driving, a combination that improves fuel economy 25 percent.
Chrysler Group LLC, with partner Fiat SpA, plans to offer start-stop technology by 2014.
Bosch, which supplies the technology, expects half the new cars in Europe will have start-stop capability in 2012, and that North America will reach that figure in 2016. In Europe, the system used by Ford was designed to work with both diesel and gasoline engines.
The technology is standard on some models of the Ford Ka and Mondeo and is launching on the Focus, C-Max and Grand C-Max.
The Focus and C-Max are global vehicles, making them strong candidates to offer start-stop features in the U.S. market, as well. The Focus goes on sale in the United States in the new year; the C-Max follows in 2012.
Eventually, Ford believes, the technology will be available in all markets around the world.
For 2011, Ford continues to offer the system on its hybrids including the Escape, Fusion and Lincoln MKZ.
“Many of the same Ford engineers who designed the Auto Start Stop system used on Ford and Lincoln hybrids are developing the Auto Start-Stop system for non-hybrid vehicles that will be sold around the globe,” said Samardzich.
Direct-injection engines work well with start-stop technology because they aid the fast engine starts required, she said.
Start-stop will debut on four-cylinder engines but expand to include V-6 and V-8 engines.
No additional vehicle maintenance is required, said Birgit Sorgenfrei, Ford program manager for Auto Start-Stop.
A light on the dash signals when the engine is off, and the needle on a special tachometer moves into the green zone.
“Our hybrid owners tell us that start-stop is one of their favorite features,” said Sorgenfrei.
“When the engine is off, they know they are saving fuel and reducing emissions.”