Fuel economy and more sway vehicle buyers

  • 10-Apr-2014 10:13 EDT

Steven Kiefer (left), Vice President of Global Powertrain for General Motors, and Robert Lee, Vice President and Head of Engine and Electrified Propulsion Engineering at Chrysler, participate in the "Consumer Driven Powertrain Innovations" session at the SAE 2014 World Congress.

A change in fuel requirements could help automakers achieve another efficiency gain.

“As engineers, we have to design for the 91 RON [Research Octane Number] fuel. But if we could get at the pump a single-octane fuel that’s higher octane—like Europe—we could really provide another efficiency gain,” said Bob Fascetti, Vice President of Powertrain Engineering at Ford.

Fascetti was one of three panelists participating in the "Consumer Driven Powertrain Innovations" session at the SAE 2014 World Congress.

By combining a 95 RON fuel with a high-compression-ratio engine, engineers could design for that and “get a roughly 5% improvement on both the EPA cycle and the EPA US06 (Supplemental Federal Test Procedure),” said Fascetti.

Fuel economy matters to vehicle buyers, and for some consumers the route to higher mpg ratings are diesel-fueled vehicles.

According to Robert Lee, Vice President and Head of Engine and Electrified Propulsion Engineering at Chrysler and Head of Global Powertrain Coordination at Fiat, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee meets best-in-class fuel economy. The SUV tallies up to 30 mpg highway with its 3.0-L EcoDiesel V6 engine, producing 240 hp (179 kW) at 3600 rpm and 420 lb·ft (569 N·m) at 2000 rpm, and eight-speed automatic transmission. That same engine powers the 28-mpg highway Ram 1500 full-size light-duty pickup truck.

“We opened up for orders on Feb. 7 [2014]. And between the 7th and 10th, we had 8000 orders for the (EcoDiesel Ram) pickup truck. A number of those buyers are actually incremental customers to us,” said Lee.

Lee said diesel-fueled passenger cars from Chrysler are possible. “There are successful (diesel-fueled) passenger cars in the market, and most of them are (from) German automakers. Will we do it? I can’t tell you for sure, but the potential is there,” said Lee.

Although fuel type and fuel economy are prime factors in vehicle-buying decisions, consumers make buying decisions based on an array of factors.

Steven Kiefer, Vice President of Global Powertrain for General Motors, said a vehicle’s performance still matters. And for electrified-vehicle buyers, performance can be a big part of the attraction.

The 2014 Cadillac ELR luxury coupe provides a performance perk via its steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. “Basically the driver can take the foot off the (accelerator) and engage one of the paddles to increase the re-gen of the vehicle. It starts to give the vehicle the feel of a downshift (like that) of a performance manual transmission vehicle,” Kiefer said. The ELR’s Regen On Demand enables the driver to regenerate energy, storing it as electricity in the vehicle’s 16.5-kW·h lithium-ion battery pack.

While innovative technologies influence consumer decisions, automakers frequently select a particular technology based on whether or not the technology will help meet CAFE and/or other government regulations.

Said Lee, “We live and work and deal with an incredibly entangled web of regulations in the auto industry. It’s getting more and more (complex) all the time. And we have to continue to plan and anticipate where these (regulations) will go (so) our innovations will be successful.”

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