The internal combustion engine strikes me as a perfect example of the free market ideal: a product that is continuously refined by intense competition.
Every time an automaker improves the internal combustion engine, it gains an advantage that lasts one production cycle. Then the industry matches it. A few years later, another automaker pushes the state of the art forward. And everyone matches it.
That's been going on for more than a century. So it always surprises me when I hear about big fuel economy improvements to internal combustion engines.
But that's a common conversation today, in part because of the increasing precision of computer controls governing the combustion process. That certainly was the theme last week during a briefing at Robert Bosch's U.S. headquarters near Detroit.
Bosch is wrapping up one federally funded project to improve the efficiency of flex fuel vehicles by 10 percent, in part with a new pressure sensor in the cylinder. Bosch has received tentative approval for a second project employing a turbocharged homogenous charge compression ignition engine to improve fuel economy by 30 percent. In both cases, Bosch is part of a consortium partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Hakan Yilmaz, director of system and advanced engineering, gasoline systems, says that Bosch sees internal combustion as viable: "We believe that internal combustion engines will be dominant in the market for the next 20 years."
Perhaps that's because of technologies such as "on-road self-learning algorithms [that] adapt engine operation parameters" that Bosch describes. Just guessing, but I doubt that Rudolf Diesel, Henry Ford or Shoichiro Honda had any of those lying around the shop.