This may be the dawn of the electric vehicle era, but 2018 has been a phenomenal year for the humble internal combustion engine.
Among the most notable advancements: General Motors launched full-size pickups that can run on just two cylinders, Mercedes-Benz introduced its first new inline six-cylinder in more than 20 years, and Nissan Motor Co. brought out the industry's first variable-compression engine, which uniquely balances fuel economy and power. Meanwhile, suppliers have been pumping out fuel-saving technologies at a furious pace.
"Gasoline engines are going to remain very, very relevant for a long time," said Ed Kim, vice president for industry analysis at AutoPacific. "Because even with this push towards electrification, the point where we get to a full battery-electric fleet across the country is very far away."
Despite the hype generated by Tesla, even the most bullish forecasts call for full EVs to account for only around 8 percent of the U.S. market by 2025. They represent less than 2 percent today.
To serve the other 90-some percent of buyers, automakers are investing in new engine architectures and technologies that boost power, reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Toyota Motor Corp., for example, plans to replace almost all of its engines between now and 2023, with 17 versions of nine new engines scheduled to arrive just in the next three years. And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is working on a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder that could replace some V-8s; it's likely to start showing up in Jeep vehicles around 2020.
"I wouldn't see the termination" of internal combustion engines on the horizon, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess told Automotive News. "We are still working on the next generation of gasoline engines. They will become more fuel efficient. We will have 48-volt start-stop systems and mild-hybrid systems. There is still a lot of improvement going in there. But, on the other hand, the improvement — engine generation after engine generation — will be reduced because there's just not much more [efficiency] in this. The low-hanging fruits are gone."