Solution to higher mpg lies in conventional engines, panelists say
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
DETROIT -- The U.S. auto industry may only have to look under the hood to find a solution for meeting increasingly stringent fuel economy regulations.
Industry experts speaking during a panel on public-policy issues at the Automotive News World Congress today said that some of the greatest improvements in fuel efficiency will come by adding new gas-saving technologies to the internal combustion engine.
"The internal combustion engine has a lot more in it," said Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. "It's an incremental pathway."
The new rules, which will be finalized in June, nearly double today's requirements to 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year.
To meet that target, automakers must improve fuel economy an average of 4.7 percent annually, "which is a daunting task to say the least," said Kent Niederhofer, president of Ricardo, Inc., a technical consulting firm. The firm worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in crafting new fuel economy standards for the 2017-25 model years.
While hybrid and plug-in electric cars have largely captured the spotlight, conventionally powered cars and trucks are expected to continue to dominate U.S. roadways well into the 2017-25 timeframe.
Automakers will eke better fuel economy out of existing models by adding more turbocharged engines to their lineups, as well as refining electronic controls and expanding the use of direct injection.
"The gasoline engine of 2025 won't be similar to the ones you're familiar with today," Niederhofer said.
Hwang said gasoline-powered cars will still account for about 80 percent of the market, even with the tougher fuel economy regulations for the 2025 model year.
The new rules could also benefit the nation's economy and consumer spending, rerouting dollars spent on foreign oil back into the U.S. economy, he said. The auto industry, too, could get a boost from the proposed standards. Hwang's group estimates the global auto industry could generate an additional $300 billion in revenue with the 2025 target.
Meanwhile, the auto industry -- long at odds with environmental advocates -- is starting to find some common ground with them, said Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an auto industry trade group that represents 12 automakers, including the Detroit 3.
U.S. buyers are asking for more fuel efficient vehicles, and automakers are overhauling their lineups to meet that demand, Bainwol said.
The proposed fuel economy rules got the backing of 13 automakers last July.
Volkswagen AG and Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG have refused to endorse the proposal because it includes no new incentives for diesel cars.
When asked about their opposition, Bainwol said: "We're arguing about margins now. Fundamentally, we're together."