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What Can Software Do for Hybrid MPGs? Ford Aims to Find Out

What can software do for hybrid fuel economy? Ford Motor (s f) and researchers at the University of Michigan plan to find out in a new project meant to speed development of more fuel-efficient hybrid systems. According to an announcement from Ford yesterday, the pair will run up to 175,000 computer design simulations of hybrid control systems, with the goal of eventually developing a software system that would allow drivers to select from several performance settings based on fuel efficiency and other driving preferences.

The scheme represents a new, green take on an old option for performance vehicles — as Motor Trend points out, “customizable dynamic settings are nothing new” for 4-wheel-drive SUVs and luxury sports cars. It’s also a step toward automation from the efficiency gauges in cars like the Toyota Prius that give drivers information about how their driving behavior affects their MPGs in real time.

“Hypermilers” have seized on this data to eke out triple-digit miles per gallon in hybrid vehicles. But providing the option to automate greener driving behavior — by smoothing out acceleration, for example — could help bring hypermiling techniques more into the mainstream.

Of course, that will depend not only on what the researchers in this project find possible, but also what types of settings Ford decides to implement in its vehicles. The company says it’s working to “determine how internal electronic vehicle controls could be tweaked to further improve fuel efficiency and fun-to-drive attributes.” Currently, the research team is running 50,000 simulations per week to analyze data collected from 2,500 road trips. Hopefully, that work will produce technology that maintains efficiency as a priority in a range of settings, rather than an alternative that pits green against performance.

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