TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Automakers say they will squeeze much more efficiency from the internal combustion engine.
For instance, they will use excess heat to warm engine lubricants more quickly to reduce friction. Better transmissions will reduce friction, and turbocharging and direct injection will boost power from small engines.
"We've got to have a lot of small improvements, like Olympic athletes, to get to the goals that we're looking for," Gary Rogers, CEO of engineering firm FEV Inc., said at the seminars. "We can't make this happen overnight. It takes time."
Engineering chiefs from five major automakers laid out strategies to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions. They are confident that they can double the amount of power they can produce per liter of fuel with technologies already in development.
"The next five to 10 years will set this industry up to go in the right direction or the wrong direction for the next 40 or 50 years," said Gary Smyth, executive director of global research and development for General Motors.
While the details of their powertrain plans differ widely, they share a common limiting factor: the amount of additional money consumers are willing to pay for more efficient vehicles.
The added efficiencies coming to the automobile include:
- Electrification: Automakers say that while full-electric vehicles are likely to remain a niche market for some time, more hybrid technology, regenerative braking and other methods to capture wasted energy will be introduced.
- Thermal management: Future engines will warm engine lubricants more quickly, reducing friction. Liquid cooling of exhaust gasses will protect turbochargers from overheating.
- Downsizing: All automakers are either introducing or experimenting with smaller four-, three-, and even two-cylinder engines that have power outputs similar to previous-generation four-cylinder powerplants.
- Turbocharging: Though the technology has been around for decades, automakers seem to have rediscovered the advantages of turbocharging to keep performance levels near what customers expect as engines get smaller.
- Alternative fuels: Diesel powertrains will be used in more vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells remain a long-term play. Ethanol will be used more widely. For example, Chrysler this week began producing the 5.7-liter HEMI engines that will drive a fleet of new heavy-duty Ram pickups with compressed natural gas. The pickup carries a pair of 34.3-gallon steel tanks within a doghouse in the truckbed that carry natural gas compressed to 3,600 psi. The cost-per-mile of fueling with natural gas is about one-third the cost of doing so with gasoline.
- Drivetrain improvements: Not all of the efficiency advances will come from engines. Improvements in transmissions and axle ratios will improve the torque delivered to the wheels from smaller engines.
- Better manufacturing: Automakers say the best way to keep down the price of the technology boom will be through more efficient manufacturing. Volkswagen Group and Ford Motor Co. say they have developed systems to increase manufacturing complexity across their powertrain offerings while keeping costs low.