IoT and miles per gallon: how we market cars

By | 3 minute read | October 20, 2016

This morning, as yet another Navarra/L200-alike truck battered past me at 90mph, the thought occurred to me – “that thing must be doing the square root of naff-all miles per gallon”.

After all, the things you need for economy at high speed are: low weight, a minimal drag coefficient, and an engine optimised for motorway speeds. A pickup has a heavy 4×4 chassis, an engine optimised for low-down torque, and the drag coefficient of the lady who, as the saying goes, has yet to sing.

And yet, on the combined EU cycle (the equivalent of EPA Highway for American readers), the Navarra claims 44.9mpg and the L200 claims 40.9mpg.

I’m sure that these outstanding-looking results are 100% legitimate to within the bounds of the tests. But not at 90mph. Realistically, we as car-lovers know that a) EU Combined Cycle results don’t map to the real world, and b) there is inconsistency between manufacturers regarding just how badly they map to the real world. But why should we have to perform mental gymnastics when reading a spec sheet just to get to a real-world position? It’s like the manufacturer claiming a 0-60 time of 4 seconds, then the small print reading “only achievable if car is dropped vertically from a helicopter”.

So my first thought as the pickup sped past was that manufacturers should be forced to claim mpg figures for the driver profile it knows its cars will attract. Honda knows I’m going to give death to my Type R, so why bother claiming 40mpg and disappointing me? Were they to publish “yobs can expect 30mpg at best” everyone would know where they stood. Similarly, Toyota could publish figures for the Prius based on the usage profile of Uber drivers, and Audi could claim significant MPG improvements from the reduced drag which results from tailgating. (Lazy stereotyping I know).

IoT, data and cars

With the IoT, though, we can do better still. Imagine if a manufacturer were obliged to publish amalgamated data from real-world usage of its cars, updated monthly, in a font exactly twice the size of its EU figures. The benefits to the consumer would be enormous. At the moment, I might view a BMW i8 advert and be astonished that such an amazing supercar can achieve 134.5mpg; but if the next line said “By the way, real world drivers got 32.5mpg”, I might think twice.

Or if not forced – imagine the marketing and reputational impact for the first OEM to take this step. “Yes, we know our competitor claims better EU results than we do… how sweet. Rather than optimising our cars to pass tests, we’ve optimised them for real drivers like you, and our real-world figure is within 3mpg of our EU Combined result.”

It would become a game of chicken to rival the publication of politicians’ tax returns – all to the benefit of the consumer and, if they were smart, the OEM. Because, upon receiving unsatisfactory results, which OEM would not push an Over-The-Air engine map update to optimise fuelling and boost for real-world conditions?

Put it this way – if a product were for sale on Amazon with no feedback except a manufacturer-published list of its spec, would you be tempted to buy it? Of course not. Yet this is what we are expected to do with fuel economy, when the IoT could lead us to make more informed product choices and force continuous improvement to the products themselves.

Of course, this is just one way that Automotive manufacturers could use technology to improve their marketing. Thanks to IoT we’ve got loads of them.

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