It's a cold morning in America, and in driveways across the land vehicles are idling, engines started earlier to make interiors toasty for impending drivers.
It's a warm-up exercise that has gone on for decades in cold-weather regions. It has gained particular popularity with the advent of remote engine starters.
However what began as a convenience is becoming a wasteful indulgence that gobbles up gasoline and adds to air pollution.
“Idling wastes fuels and produces extra emissions,” says Mike Bacon, a marketing manager at Webasto Product North America. Inc.
His company has created a device that preheats the interior without idling the engine.
It is a fuel-operated heater (FOH) called BlueHeat. About the size of a shoe box, it is installed under the hood and activated by a remote fob.
The device takes coolant from the engine block, warms it and circulates it back to the engine, warming the vehicle's interior (and defrosting the windows) in 15 minutes, without starting the engine.
Working like a mini-furnace and with its own pump connected to the vehicle fuel tank, the FOH device uses one-eighth the gasoline and accounts for one-20th the emissions compared with idling warm-up, says Bacon.
It is popular in Europe where there are stricter anti-idling laws. Webasto is setting its sights on the North American market.
But there's a marketing challenge. It costs more than simple remote starters.
Remote-start devices start at about $99. A dealer-installed BlueHeat system costs about $1,500 and takes about four hours to install at a dealership.
“Remote-start devices are cheap and easy to install,” says John J. Thomas, a Webasto business development director. “We originally thought the romote-start devices would kill us. Now we think they are creating a market for us.”
As the downside of engine idling becomes more evident, Webasto is positioning its device as equally convenient but more environmentally friendly.
Currently, 20 states have anti-idling laws. Several U.S. cities have their own versions. Tougher legislation is expected as fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions become bigger issues.
BlueHeat is available for installation on 23 different domestic and import car makes. “In our marketing, we are heavily pursuing the Big Three,” says Thomas.