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DETROIT -- The secret to achieving strict new federal fuel economy standards may turn out to be the internal combustion engine.
Automakers can reach the federal government's targets without introducing high volumes of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, said a member of the purchasing and supplier panel at last week's Automotive News World Congress.
By using a mix of start-stop systems, turbochargers, direct injection and other cutting-edge twists on traditional powertrains, automakers have made big enough improvements in fuel economy to be able to meet the government's target for a 54.5 mpg average by the 2025 model year, said Brian Kesseler, president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s battery division.
The supplier has introduced a durable battery that can handle the demands of start-stop systems. The Ford Fusion, which has a start-stop system, is equipped with JCI's absorbent glass mat battery.
"We can leverage existing technology to meet these regulations," Kesseler said. "Automakers don't necessarily need hybrids, EVs or plug-ins."
Kesseler's comments appeared to validate the EPA's approach to fuel economy regulations. While the EPA has set tough CAFE targets, it has not mandated the use of particular technologies. By contrast, the California Air Resources Board has mandated the introduction of zero-emission vehicles powered by electric batteries or fuel cells.
By 2025, 15 percent of new vehicles sold in California must be electric cars, plug-in hybrids or fuel cell-powered vehicles.
While automakers have had mixed results with electric vehicles, they've had success upgrading conventional powertrains to realize fuel economy gains.
One popular strategy, downsizing engines and turbocharging them, has delivered good results for Ford Motor Co., which has aggressively marketed its line of EcoBoost engines. Ford purchasing chief Hau Thai-Tang noted that Ford offers an EcoBoost powertrain option on 80 percent of its product lineup.
To encourage faster adoption of technology, Ford no longer allocates all of its product development costs to the first model that gets the technology. "In the past, the lead program bore the burden, but now we spread the cost through all of our programs," Thai-Tang said.
One of Ford's key suppliers of turbochargers is BorgWarner Inc. To ensure the smooth launch of Ford's EcoBoost powertrain lineup, BorgWarner's senior management met once a month with Ford's top executives, and the two companies shared more information than they normally would.
As automakers work more closely with suppliers, they will be able to maintain the pace of innovation, BorgWarner CEO James Verrier said. "There is a lot of momentum, and we have a path to get there."