The 2017 AJAC EcoRun

Yearly event highlights fuel economy

August 30, 2017
by David Miller

Image: David Miller

From the August 2017 print edition

If you look back 15 or even 10 years, the automotive industry wasn’t consumed by fuel economy numbers. For most automakers today, fuel economy is top of mind and that’s reflected in many product portfolio decisions. Some of those decisions come down to the use of lightweight materials such as aluminum and high-strength steel; others are made to the type of engine, electric motor, or a combination of both that propels the vehicle.

The auto industry is rapidly in flux with many new vehicles and technologies entering the market. For the average consumer, that rapid change makes it difficult to stay on top of what’s new, and that’s where an event like the sixth-annual EcoRun—a showcase of eco-friendly vehicles—can be an important tool.

What is EcoRun?
The EcoRun, organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) doesn’t home in on any particular vehicle size or alternative engine. The 19 vehicles on hand for 2017 not only ranged from subcompact cars to large SUVs, that group consisted of pure electrics, plug-in and conventional hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, diesel-fuelled powertrains and highly-efficient gasoline options.

The sixth-annual EcoRun, organized by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), saw 19 vehicles travel from Ottawa to Quebec City while showcasing the eco-friendly nature of those vehicles. Image: David Miller

In its six years, the EcoRun has travelled throughout Canada to show off a number of vehicles and its fuel savings message. For 2017, the two-day event was held in June, starting in Ottawa and concluding in Quebec City. Along the way, there were a total of eight driving legs that featured nine cities or towns including Hawkesbury, Saint-Jovite, Sainte-Adele, Montreal, Joliette, Trois-Rivieres and Deschambault.

But the EcoRun does more than simply showcase vehicles through a glorified drive event. The 19 AJAC journalists piloting each hauler attempt to show off how fuel efficient each car can be with respect to the rules and speed limits of the road. By applying simple driving techniques such as accelerating gently from a complete stop or coast to decelerate when driving towards a stop sign or red street light, it’s surprising how much fuel savings can be achieved. In addition, maintaining awareness of what surrounds you on the road can be vital to avoiding a quick hard brake or acceleration, all contributing to extra fuel savings.

For the journalists involved in the EcoRun, there’s a competition between them adding some incentive. They are all vying for the highly-coveted Canadian Fuels Association ‘Green Jersey’ to be given to the journalist who on average drives the most fuel efficient throughout the two-day journey. All fuel economy statistics on each leg are tracked and an average fuel economy score is provided in comparison to Canada’s official fuel consumption ratings provided by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

How much savings did the EcoRun vehicles provide?
A friendly competition between journalists is fine water cooler talk, but the true measure of EcoRun comes down to how well the individual vehicles performed on real-world road conditions.

The 19 vehicles averaged a fuel economy savings of 0.842L/100km. Image: David Miller

Like every year, the numbers did the talking with the 19 vehicles averaging a fuel economy savings of 0.842L/100km compared to the official combined NRCan ratings.

At times, the attention gets placed on pure electrics and hybrids, but those vehicles already have low fuel economy ratings, leaving less room for improvement. For example, the likes of the Volkswagen e-Golf, rated at 2.0Le/100km combined, could only muster as low as 1.7L/100km on EcoRun. The same can be said for the Ford Focus EV which only managed a 0.2Le/100km decrease in its 2.2 rating.
The lowered EV numbers are as highly-efficient as it gets in the auto industry, but if you’re looking for the largest fuel economy disparities, that came mostly from the highly-efficient gas vehicles.

Four of those vehicles provided a shaving of at least 2.0L/100km. Leading the pack was Nissan’s Versa Note 5MT (2.3L/100km saved), followed by the Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda MX-5 RF and Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e—a plug-in hybrid, that all saved 2.0L/100km.
In total, five more cars saved at least 1.0L/100km off the NRCan rating: Subaru Forester (1.5), Mazda CX-5 (1.4), Chevrolet Cruze diesel (1.3), Nissan Versa Note Xtronic CVT (1.2) and Lexus LC 500h (1.0).

As well as the aforementioned entries did, the EcoRun only presents a small sample size, and these numbers are based on driving performances by individual journalists. Even though cars like the Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid equalled or came close to equalling the NRCan combined totals, there’s still a lot of healthy driving achieved with registering numbers of 2.0Le/100km and 4.4L/100km, respectively, on real-world conditions.

Automakers have expanded their options to include everything from pure electronics to plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

It should be noted that not all plug-in hybrids were fully charged before each leg due to a lack of charging infrastructure, so the numbers for those particular vehicles were scored based on a formula that averages its fuel economy ratings in gas only mode and when combined.

The takeaways
Since the EcoRun’s inception in 2012, the auto industry has expanded its portfolio of consumer options through the development of alternative choices ranging from pure electrics to plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The charging infrastructure has struggled to follow at such a pace, taking a much slower route, creating worry if it will ever catch up.

Regardless what the automakers and politicians say, there’s no definitive answer to whether pure eletrics, hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells will eventually be the norm, but what the EcoRun can confirm is that every single vehicle in the entire auto industry has lowered its greenhouse gas emissions to the betterment of the environment, as well as the family wallet.