DETROIT -- Although automakers are spending a considerable portion of their research and development budgets on developing clean diesels, hybrid powertrains and fuel cells, there is still plenty of life left in the internal combustion gasoline engine.
It will likely continue to be the automobile's main source of propulsion in North America until at least 2035, said Daniel Kapp, chief engineer of powertrain operations for Ford Motor Co., during a panel discussion last week at the SAE World Congress.
"We see the gasoline engine and continued evolution and improvements to its efficiency certainly being core over the next 30-plus years," Kapp said.
|Title: Chief engineer, powertrain operations|
Company: Ford Motor Co.
Quote: "We'll continue to apply demonstrated technologies on higher volumes and continue to develop more cost effective new technologies."
Company: FEV Motorentechnik GmbH
Quote: "I would say that by 2010 or 2012, a 30 percent improvement in fuel consumption for gasoline engines is possible."
|Title: Senior general manager, Powertrain Planning Department|
Company: Toyota Motor Corp.
Quote: "Hybridization is the road to the future"
Franz Pischinger, CEO of FEV Motorentechnik GmbH, a German engineering company, outlined several technologies already in use that have enabled gasoline engines to produce more power while using less fuel:
But huge gains still remain to be achieved that could see the gasoline engine's efficiency move from its current 30 percent to nearly 40 percent.
Pischinger said a camless engine, which uses high-powered computers to control the opening and closing of engine valves, could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 18 percent.
Varying the compression ratio also could yield a tremendous fuel economy gain, perhaps as much as 25 percent, he said. But both technologies are in their infancy and won't see production in the near term.
"I would say that by 2010 or 2012, a 30 percent improvement in fuel consumption for gasoline engines is possible," Pischinger said.
Matter of timing
Craig Marks, retired head of GM research and development who moderated the panel, noted that many of the ideas are not new. "We have visited many of these issues in the past, but with the technology today, they are viable, he said.
Marks cited the rotary engine as an example of older technology that has been improved over time by advances in technology.
Marks said GM invested millions in bringing a rotary engine to production in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only to scrap the project at the last minute when the engine failed to meet emissions standards.
Takehisa Yaegashi, Toyota Motor Corp.'s senior general manager of powertrain planning, said his company views gasoline-electric hybrid powertrains as the best way to boost performance and fuel economy today before shifting to fuel cell vehicles between 2030 and 2050.
He agreed that 40 percent efficiency is attainable for gasoline engines. But he added that even if that level is achieved, the dominance of the gasoline engine still will eventually end.
Yaegashi said, "We must meet the global need to address emissions and efficiency and eventually move away from our dependence on fossil fuels. I think fuel cells are a most likely candidate."