Engineers fueled by fuel prices

  • 26-Apr-2012 09:12 EDT
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With U.S. gas prices hovering around $4/gal, Ford's Dan Kapp said that the automaker is already seeing consumers place a higher value on fuel economy when making a vehicle purchase decision. Kapp was a speaker during a Wednesday afternoon panel session in the FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum.

Proposed future government standards for vehicle fuel economy and emissions are keeping engineers busy refining existing technologies and developing new technologies.

“At GM, we don’t see a single, bullet point solution,” Michael Harpster, Director of Propulsion Systems Research Labs at General Motors, said during the Wednesday afternoon session at the FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum.

The panel’s over-arching topic, "The Connection Between Fuel Economy and Emissions: Do We Have The Best Balance To Serve America’s Interests?," had the presenters nodding yes along with the audience that future fuel and energy prices will affect the buying decisions of consumers.

Predicting the price of fuel in 2025, which will be the year when the U.S. government’s proposed CAFE requirement of 54.5 mpg for passenger vehicles would be in place—will be a major sway on consumers’ buying preferences.

That’s an underlying reason why automakers and their suppliers are working on multiple technology fronts: ranging from electrified and fuel cell vehicles to improving the internal-combustion engine (ICE).

Ford Motor Co., Michigan Technological University, and other colleges are working on a project to prove out that a 25% or greater weighed fuel economy improvement is possible with a gasoline engine and conventional automatic transmission combination that meets Tier 2, Bin 2 emissions standards.

The project, which received a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, is approaching the midway point of a planned four-year undertaking.

Dan Kapp, Director of Powertrain Research & Advanced Engineering at Ford, told an SAE Magazines reporter after the 2-h session concluded that engine-related demonstration hardware is expected later this year.

The program is enabling engineers to “systematically sort through technology options to put together what a future ICE can be as well as what it would cost,” Kapp said in the brief interview.

Since consumers place a high value on fuel economy when shopping for a new vehicle, the research project is especially relevant.

Panel moderator Jeff Alson, Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. EPA’s Transportation and Climate Division, said a final decision on CAFE and emissions standards for 2017-25 is expected this summer.

“The proposed national program standards for MY 2025 will double new-car fuel economy relative to MY 2012,” Alson said.

To pump up vehicle fuel economy and reduce vehicle emissions, automakers are tapping various technologies. Recent trends include more application visibility for gasoline direct injection engines, turbocharging as well as six, seven, and eight speed transmissions. Electrified vehicles and diesel engine technologies are also part of the mix.

Uwe Kirberg, Vice President of Engineering for Diesel Systems at Robert Bosch LLC, said “New technologies can provide a balance between ‘green' and consumer requirements.”

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