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Tech Talk

Block Exemption

In recognition of the unique technical complexity of motor vehicles the motor industry enjoys a so-called 'block exemption' from some aspects of European competition law.

Essentially this block exemption regulation permits the industry to operate selective and exclusive distribution through franchised dealer networks while safeguarding key consumer rights concerning the purchase, maintenance and repair of vehicles.

The motor industry block exemption regulations were last renewed in 2002 when a number of changes were introduced to increase competition in sales and servicing/repair.

Current Situation

Since March 2002:

Car owners have been able to have their vehicles serviced and repaired by independent garages without affecting the warranty (providing parts matching original specification are used and the manufacturer's service schedule is followed).

A Greener Future

It may seem dirty and outdated compared with the batteries that power electric vehicles, but the internal combustion engine is set for a makeover that could halve its greenhouse gas emissions.

Today's engines are pretty inefficient, converting only around a quarter of the energy contained in fuel into motion; the remaining three-quarters is lost as heat. So efforts are under way to recover some of this lost energy in the hope of reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Up to 40 per cent of an engine's potential output is lost in its exhaust, says Guy Morris, engineering director at Controlled Power Technologies based in Laindon, UK. The company plans to recover some of this energy by fitting a turbine inside the tailpipe: the fast-moving exhaust gases coming straight from the engine drive the turbine, generating electricity.

A prototype device fitted to a large family car harvests up to 6 kilowatts of energy in track tests, says Morris. This could be fed back into the car's battery to power its onboard electrical systems, reducing fuel consumption by up to 15 per cent, he claims.

Super Fly

Elsewhere, designers are looking to capture the energy that most cars lose in braking. Putting that kinetic energy to work would reduce the load on the engine.

Hybrid cars that have both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine already have regenerative brakes that generate electricity when they are applied. But a team led by car maker Jaguar is cutting out the electric middleman with a system that simply stores unwanted kinetic energy for later.

They are developing a hybrid car equipped with a kinetic-energy-recovery system similar to those used in last year's Formula 1 season. The prototype car, which is due to hit the test track in June, has a flywheel linked to its gears. When the driver wants to slow down, the flywheel can be used to recover the rotational energy of the wheels and store it as kinetic energy. When more power is needed the system works in reverse, drawing energy from the flywheel and feeding it back to the driveshaft through the gears. The system reacts automatically to gas and brake pedal movements, thus storing power without needing control from the driver.

Like the Formula 1 version, the mechanism is built by Flybrid Systems based near the British Grand Prix race circuit in Silverstone.

Chris Brockbank of project partner Torotrak, based in Leyland, UK, says over 70 per cent of the energy recovered by the system can be converted into motive force to drive the car. This makes it more than twice as efficient as conventional hybrid cars, which can only recover about 30 per cent of the braking energy, he says.

The team claim the system will reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 per cent compared with conventional gasoline engines. What's more, unlike batteries, the flywheel will not need regular replacement, says Brockbank

Courtesy of New Scientist (2010)