Volatile gasoline prices draw attention to 'eco-driving' skills

By Satoshi Toi, Kyodo

Posted at Aug 31 2014 09:03 AM | Updated as of Aug 31 2014 05:03 PM

TOKYO - Driving skills and products to improve the fuel economy of vehicles are drawing attention in Japan amid volatile gasoline prices.

One source of valuable information are seminars that the Japan Automobile Federation holds across the country to teach energy-saving driving skills.

At the seminars, participants are first asked to drive their cars as usual and calculate the fuel consumption. Subsequently they listen to a lecture, learn "eco-driving" skills, drive their cars again and again calculate fuel consumption. The process enables them to directly recognize improvements in fuel efficiency.

Eco-driving skills involve delicate adjustments of the accelerator. For example on a city street with many traffic signals, a driver should gradually press down on the accelerator, instead of stamping on it, to start the car after each stop. To minimize fuel consumption at the start, the driver needs to accelerate gradually and smoothly.

The driver also should avoid unnecessary deceleration and acceleration while driving, and release the accelerator early to let the engine brake work before bringing the vehicle to a halt.

Frequent adjustments of the air conditioner also help improve fuel economy.

Instructors ride with participants in a training session to teach eco-driving skills. "An average 20 to 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency is realized through (changes to) driving practices," said an instructor from JAF's Tokyo branch.

A 23-year-old female company employee who participated in a training program recently held at a driving school in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward said, "I was surprised because I made an improvement in fuel efficiency though I am not good at driving."

JAF also conducts seminars to produce eco-driving advisors who teach skills to corporate clients, according to the Tokyo instructor.

Tires that use materials and designed to reduce fuel consumption are also in growing demand.

Starting in 2010, tire manufactures in Japan have sold products that clear certain standards as fuel-efficient tires.

According to the Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association, tires are graded based on two performance standards: "tire rolling resistance," or the backward friction to tires when a vehicle moves forward, and "wet grip performance." The first standard is divided into five grades of rolling resistance, and the second standard into four grades of braking ability on wet roads.

Bridgestone Corp. offers 10 types of fuel-efficient tires for drivers to choose from depending on whether they drive minivehicles, sedans, electric cars or other types of vehicles. While the cost of the tires average around 50,000 yen apiece, a vehicle consumes some 4 percent less fuel if tires of the lowest grade in rolling resistance are replaced with the highest-grade tires, a Bridgestone official said.

Even hybrid vehicles are less fuel-efficient if they run on "bad tires," the official said. Drivers should "choose optimum tires depending on the cars they drive and how they use them, and carefully check air pressure in tires."