Association, Inc.

Issue No. 1, 2011

Fuel Economy

by Peter Nunn

If there’s one word that resonates strongly across Japan's car industry these days, it has to be 'eco'—as in clean, green, recyclable of course, and also in terms of fuel economy (and thus resource- and money-saving as well).  As Japanese buyers tune in more and more to 'eco', manufacturers are responding.  Recently introduced to the market in Japan are a number of new cars that set extraordinary new standards for fuel efficiency.

Indeed, a fascinating new form of competition now seems to be brewing among the manufacturers.  As in, who can develop the most economical car?  King of the hill is unquestionably the Toyota Prius, the nation’s best-selling hybrid which records an exceptional high of 38.0 km/l in Japan’s 10.15-mode fuel cycle (in Europe, that would be just 2.63 L/100 kms).  In the class below, a whole family of high-economy compacts are also now coming on the market, each one looking to set its own new mark for fuel miserliness.

For a long while, the Honda Fit (Jazz) was one of the benchmarks in this segment and its impressive 24.5 km/l rating in 10.15 mode reflected that.  Then, last summer, Nissan unveiled a new generation March (Micra) which can achieve a high of 26.0 km/l with an ingenious, 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine.

In December 2010, Toyota introduced a redesigned Vitz (Yaris) which set the bar higher with 26.5 km/l in the same fuel cycle.  Daihatsu soon followed with an all-new Move.  Scoring a superb 27.0 km/l rating in 10.15 mode, this 660 cc mini-wagon overnight took its place as Japan’s most economical conventionally-engineered car.  Now everyone is joining in.  Suzuki’s new-generation Swift XS achieves a commendable 23.0 km/l.  The Trezia, Subaru’s new compact hatch, offers a high of 20 km/l.  And Mitsubishi’s four-door i minicar is still good for 21.0 km/l despite being launched a few years back.

Another outstanding new offering is Honda’s Fit Hybrid with 30 km/l.  Mazda meanwhile is preparing a new breakthrough SKYACTIV-G engine for introduction this year in the Demio (Mazda2).  With exceptionally high compression, this engine will be able to deliver 30 km/l economy, Mazda says, but without the assistance of an electric motor (as with a hybrid).

Putting it all into perspective, yes, it's true that these 10.15-mode figures come from the test bed and that the 10.15 mode itself is in the process of being superseded by the more contemporary and demanding JC08 cycle in Japan.  All the same, the trend towards ever better fuel economy is set and these latest fuel-sipping offerings in Japan show how fast the technology is moving.

Put another way, 'eco' and fuel economy are now both in the fast lane.