A car sharing study involving college student participants is providing Denso with feedback that could help the supplier develop new products.
“MDrive was set up as a research project to study the benefits and challenges of electric vehicle car sharing,” Michael Bima, lead engineer at Denso’s North American Research Engineering Center, said during an interview with Automotive Engineering at SAE WCX17.
Thirty college students from the University of Michigan-Dearborn have been driving fully-electric 2016MY Ford Focus cars, accounting for a combined 20,000 miles (32,187 km). “There’s actually been quite a bit of usage, roughly 800 trips so far,” Bima said, noting the six-month project wraps in late April.
Student participants could reserve a car using a mobile phone app. Their impressions on driving an all-electric vehicle, and their thoughts on car sharing were captured throughout the study via video recordings, user surveys, and user discussion boards.
Accessibility and availability of the cars, which have dedicated parking spots and Level 2 charging stations at an off-campus housing complex, were commonly cited as the primary car sharing issues. From a driving perspective, the students frequently cited range anxiety as a key concern.
Participant Tessa Smith said she occasionally made a conscious decision to avoid using certain in-vehicle features. “Sometimes I would keep the heat off in order to save miles,” she noted.
“We noticed that the participants would not use features, like the a/c or the heat, just so they could extend the vehicle’s range,” said Bima. “Or they might not go on a trip because they knew they’d need to use the heat to be comfortable and [felt] they wouldn’t be able to get where they wanted to go if they used the HVAC.”
Denso’s involvement in the project underscores the relevance of the supplier having products and technologies that match future mobility needs.
“Car sharing is going to play an important role in the future of mobility, so it’s important for us to look at these things,” said Bima, adding, “We need to know the challenges and develop solutions for these future trends.”
Ford Motor Co. provided the cars for the study; NextEnergy provided project support, and Denso served as the project lead.