We just wrote about a Khosla-backed alternative vehicle company making noise at the Detroit Auto Show (Coskata). And now here’s another one: Khosla Ventures announced it has invested in EcoMotors, a startup building more efficient engines, in particular a diesel engine that can do 100 mpg by 2011.
Unlike Khosla’s other biofuel investments, which total more than a dozen, backing EcoMotors is a play on making traditional vehicles more energy efficient. While the ultimate aim is getting drivers to kick their oil addiction altogether, there’s a lot of room for innovation in our traditional engines. Particularly with the Energy Bill’s new increases in the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard, which raises the average mileage of the auto fleet to 35 mpg by 2020.
Updtate: We talked with EcoMotors COO John Coletti and Khosla Venture’s Operating Partner Ford Tamer, who gave us some more info on the Detroit-based startup that just raised its Series A. The executives said that EcoMotors is commercializing technology that has already been in use in military programs. Coletti called the diesel engine, “a next solid step in engine design evolution,” and explained that the efficiency in stacking the engine modules is partly due to the fact that one of the engine modules can be shut off when it isn’t needed.
EcoMotors put out a press release for the Detroit Auto Show, but for some reason it’s also trying to stay quiet about its other details, claiming its still “in stealth.” A company spokesperson told us that EcoMotors was founded in 2007, but wouldn’t name the size of the investment nor the number of employees, and said the company doesn’t have a web site yet. Khosla describes the investment in the press release as complementing its other investments in the engine space, highlighting that together with battery technology investments, they can develop plug-in hybrid technology. Khosla also noted that the startup is focusing on developing markets.
EcoMotors says they can improve engine efficiency by over 50 percent, with the ability to stack the engine modules. Other startups like Khosla-backed Transonic Combustion are working on trying making the internal combustion engine more efficient. Like Venrock’s Matt Trevithick recently said to us in an interview, the internal combustion engine “is inherently not a great product.”
Car companies are trying to avoid reinventing the wheel completely, by working on efficient traditional vehicles along with alt-vehicles. GM’s Lawrence D. Burns, VP of R&D, told us that the company sees a lot of potential for fuel efficiency from innovations in safer driving, and adaptive cruise control, which could smooth out congestion and less variance in driving speed. He predicted “maybe 40 percent of that [fuel efficiency] can come from ethanol.” The rest will come from other areas of efficiency innovation.