Go Green Without Breaking the Bank

The 2010 Honda Insight will be a catalyst that has the potential to make owning a hybrid an affordable option for Main Street, with price tags below $20,000. The past two years at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is exemplary of  the green trend, all of the auto companies presented new models on a green platform, only Honda has been able to make it affordable, for now at least.

There are three elements consistent in hybrid engine design that contributes to better fuel economy.

1) Having both an electric engine and gasoline engine that shuts down during peak power usage.

2)A battery capable of storing large amounts of energy

3) The ability to recapture energy during braking

These are the staples for hybrid design that the automobile industry is working towards as a whole to make the most efficient and affordable. But what about those potential hybrid consumers on a budget? More importantly, what about those consumers that are about to get pink slipped? What options do they have to drive a fuel efficient vehicle while not falling into debt?

There are a variety of options to change transportation behavior: buy a hybrid, carpool, ride a bike, ride a bus, teleconference, all of which require a change in behavior. Aftermarket computer chips are an option that does not require any change whatsoever. A variety of companies offer performance grade computer chips that are installed on the electronic control unit(ECU) of an engine and will optimize an engine’s performance to create higher horsepower and torque and can be utilized for higher fuel efficieny, up to 5 mpg. Once installed, the programmer’s smart system immediately recognizes vital information of the vehicle’s engine, powertrain and transmission, and can be adjusted without having a deep understanding of computer programming. Hypertech offers a Max Energy E-con Programmer, specifically designed to imporve fuel economy, it retails at $329.99 and is available on 22 different car models.

The question is: why are you only able to find these on automobile supply websites, trade publications, and AutoZone? Why aren’t these things at Meijers’, Sears and Target? Buying a performance chip is less expensive with a little les R-O-MPG in the long-term. So when are after-marker computer chips going to break out of the gearhead market and into the green market?

The decline in auto sales over the past few years creates even more opportunity for such a product to thrive in the market. Aftermarket companies such as Hypertech could reach those consumers who want to go green but can’t afford a $26,000 or even a $20,000 hybrid. Sure, ponying up for the Hybrid is the most eco-friendly and will give you more eco-bragging ammo, but let’s face it, people are strapped for cash and not in the new car market, sales volumes over the past few years have shown that. Spending $3,000-$4,000 more for a hybrid, that gets 10-12 more mpg, whereas an E-con Programmer is 1/10 the price increase opposed to buying a hybrid and saves 1/2 as much in fuel economy. Cheaper short-term, comprable long-term.

However, there are some barriers to entry dependant on the success of aftermarket chips. Installing a computer chip is in violation of most car’s warranties that disqualifies an eligibility for engine repair. This is a contractual agreement with the auto companies that aftermarket companies will struggle to overcome, given that the auto companies have tenfold the bargaining power.

So, maybe that is why aftermarket chips are not part of the mass market, there could be other reasons. They could just be slouches for marketers. Regardless, there is an opportunity for a company to introduce a product into the market that is aligned with current trends and nothing is being done about it. Tsk Tsk.