I am not a car buff. In fact I don't even like to drive. It is very unusual for me to care about anything automotive. However, I have owned stock in Axion Power International(AXPW) since January, 2009. Axion makes a device called the PbC battery. Technically its not a battery but everyone refers to it as such. It is actually a battery/capacitor combination. Anyone interested can read about it at axionpower.com. It appears that the PbC will be the best battery for start/stop systems. Therefore, my interest in something automotive.
WHAT IS A START/STOP SYSTEM
The point is that the learning about Axion Power and the PbC has taught me about the automatic start/stop systems being placed on automobiles today. It is estimated that 17 million of these systems will be sold each year in America by 2017. 30 million will be sold each year in Europe and America by that time. Since these systems require a different battery than the old 12 volt lead acid battery it is a very interesting investment thesis.
Today I was invited to my local Kia dealership for a test drive of a Kia brand automobile with the new system. It was the 2013 Kia Rio. The first subcompact car under any nameplate to have a start/stop system. The system works like this:
The start/stop system is completely automatic. When the key is turned and the engine starts the system is automatically on. The car is then put in motion. When the brake is applied and the car is completely stopped the engine turns off. No gasoline is wasted at idle. Nothing else changes. The air conditioner works. The radio works. the car simply does not use any gas when off. As soon as you release the brake pedal the engine starts. In every case the engine was started before I could get my foot over to the gas pedal. That is how a start/system works. It is called a micro hybrid by some writers but there is nothing hybrid about it. It is simply saving gas by not burning fuel at idle.
MY TEST DRIVE
One of the Salesmen at our local dealership, here in Florida, knows of my interest in the new Kia Rio w/ start/stop. Kia calls their system idle stop and go ( ISG). The first 2013 Kia Rio came in yesterday and we scheduled a drive for today. I was the first person to drive the vehicle except for the mechanic that prepped the car upon arrival. We jumped in and drove it over to the gas station since it had little fuel. On the way over we read the three pages of the manual devoted to the system. After fueling I left the gas pump and drove to the end of the driveway. The car stopped running when I stopped. When traffic cleared I released the brake and the engine quietly and immediately engaged allowing me to move into traffic. No shakes, shudders, or involuntary movements. Nothing dramatic. It operated as a normal car. The engine again stopped at the next stoplight. It was flat terrain ( all of Florida) so I took my foot off the brake for just a second. The engine started and we sat with the car at idle until the light turned green. I felt like I just wasted precious gas. All because I released the brake. We then drove the car several miles stopping often if possible.
The system does not allow the car to shut off, if the battery is at a low state of charge. It will simply idle, just like your car. This happened several times during my drive and would happen often in congested city driving I'm sure. The funny thing is that after a few minutes of assuring yourself that the car will restart, you want it to stop using gas when your stopped.
The one problem we experienced was the air conditioning. It is summer here already. It was 82 degrees by 10:00AM. We simply leave our car air conditioners to MAX AIR all year long. In that way the sealed up auto can cool down the quickest. We then turn the air down after the car cools off. With the air conditioner at MAX AIR the start/stop system quit working. With the fan speed set on #4 (highest) the system will not work. I set the air at the highest setting that was not MAX and put the fan at #3. The system worked fine.
COST OF THE SYSTEM
Kia adds the Economy Package ( idle stop and go) on the Rio for $400.
One study has shown that most Americans will pay up to $300 for every mpg they can save when purchasing an automobile. Even with the stingy test the EPA uses to measure gas mileage this car is rated at saving 1 mpg. That is 3% savings in town and 2% savings on the highway. Which is funny because when I drive on the highway I rarely stop.
TYPE OF BATTERY
The Kia Rio uses a single 12 volt 70Ah (20HR) AGM ( absorbed glass mat) battery. I read somewhere that the manufacturer is a South Korean battery company. The use of a single AGM battery in Europe the last couple of years has had problems. After the first several months of use, the batteries dynamic charge acceptance capabilities are severely diminished. This means that the start/stop systems quit shutting the car off. The car companies don't want to admit this and simply charge up the customers batteries in order to make their Start/stop systems work again. But that is not a fix. The batteries will never have the charge acceptance they need, ever again. The real solution is a better battery. Several solutions are trying to win favor with the auto companies right now.
This link will take you to a white paper on Charge Acceptance Issues published by Axion Power after joint research with BMW was released in 2010.
Neither I or anyone at the dealership had ever driven a start/stop automobile. Everyone wanted to know my impressions when I returned. My biggest impression was that the system was indeed seamless. No driving habits had to change. But I really did feel like I was saving gas. Saving gas money for me. Saving on imported oil and reducing emissions. But I didn't have to do anything to do it. Just drive normally. I was very impressed with the car and the start/stop system.
They were not as happy with my knowledge of the battery issues customers in Europe have experienced with start/stop. But I assured them that this is the wave of the future and that Kia should be very proud of putting out such a fine subcompact with this feature. Since I just purchased a Kia Soul a month ago I was not in the market to buy a Rio. Now I find out that the 2013 Soul will also have this feature available. Rats.
Disclosure: I am long AXPW.