President Barack Obama's goal to raise corporate average fuel economy standards to 35.5 miles a gallon by 2016 is ambitious. It's also attainable, but perhaps not in the way the president envisions.
As a candidate last summer, Obama set a goal to have 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015. Of course, the overwhelming majority of vehicles produced in 2015 will still be gasoline-powered. Fortunately, there already are several technologies such as direct injection, variable-valve timing, variable-valve actuation, variable-camshaft timing, variable-compression ratio, and turbocharging that will help reduce our dependence on the fossil fuels that power our vehicles.
The president said earlier this year that the 1908 Model T had fuel efficiency comparable to that of today's SUV. He was wrong. This industry has some of the world's greatest engineering talent, and we are well on our way to developing technologies to meet the president's fuel efficiency standards.
Here's a look at some promising technologies for the future that this industry's best and brightest are working on today:
Despite the recent cancellation of nine programs by various automakers, diesel engines have shown significant progress.
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI gets 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, a 40 percent improvement over the gasoline-powered Jetta. The Jetta TDI is so well-regarded that it was a finalist for 2009 North American Car of the Year and was named 2009 Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
General Motors has made significant strides with its Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition technology. The efficiency of an HCCI engine can offer the benefits of both diesel and gasoline engines. HCCI offers lower peak temperatures while significantly increasing fuel efficiency and producing lower emissions.
The homogeneous mixture of fuel, air, and captured exhaust gases is compressed and auto-ignited. Combustion is not controlled by the kinetic chemistry of the in-cylinder charge.
The HCCI engine always has presented numerous technical challenges. However, GM and other car manufacturers seem to have overcome many of them. GM began road testing an HCCI engine in a Saturn Aura last spring. GM said the HCCI Aura achieved a 15 percent increase in fuel efficiency in real-world driving conditions.
Ford's EcoBoost engine is a combination of direct injection and turbocharging technology for four- and six-cylinder engines. The engine was introduced on the 2009 Lincoln MKS. Ford projects that by 2013, more than 90 percent of its North American lineup will be available with EcoBoost. Ford says EcoBoost will improve fuel economy by as much as 20 percent.
Variable-compression ratio technology allows extremely high torque at low engine speeds. Sensors in the engine react to driving conditions and adjust the compression ratio in each piston.
If a car is climbing a hill, for example, the sensors adjust the pistons to allow a higher compression ratio and deliver more power. This maximizes fuel efficiency and yields a more powerful engine in a smaller package. On the test bench, the technology has achieved more than a 30 percent increase in fuel economy while reducing engine size by 50 percent.
The engine is being road tested in a Peugeot 407 in Europe and could be introduced as soon as 2015.
Chrysler LLC advanced variable-valve timing to permit the vaunted high-powered Hemi V-8 to cruise in four-cylinder mode nearly half the time at most highway speed limits.
Those technologies underscore some important points.
-- There is more than one path to improved fuel efficiency. While hybrid and electric vehicles tend to grab more headlines, other technologies are quietly making rapid advances.
-- The industry can achieve higher fuel efficiency without sacrificing the power and utility that buyers have come to expect from cars and trucks.
-- The industry must do a better job of informing everyone, including the president, about our technological advances.
As an industry, it is imperative that we continue to bring them to market.
(Source: Automotive News)