SEMA moves powertrain parts certification program to forefront

  • 24-Nov-2014 03:56 EST
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CU-ICAR facility offers data analysis for problem-solving, including analysis of pre-catalyst and post-cat emissions data, and analysis of combustion and calibration for aftermarket performance parts makers seeking CARB certification.

SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) long has stood for high performance, and although it's moving into the connected car area, performance remains a primary focus of membership. However, member companies that engineer high-performance systems for powertrain and chassis have had to face the reality of the "do no harm" umbrella imposed by federal and state regulations.

The vehicle dynamics system test program has been under way in conjunction with Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) for several years, with SEMA-member makers of tires, lift kits, and other suspension parts participating. The testing is designed to assure that their parts do not affect OE compliance with FMVSS 126, which effectively mandated electronic stability control (ESC) systems (see http://articles.sae.org/12593).

Increasing speed to market

The powertrain performance area is getting equal treatment, also under the SEMA alliance with CU-ICAR, in this case under the leadership of Dr. Robert Prucka.

The objective is straightforward, Prucka said, speaking at a forum during the recent SEMA tradeshow in Las Vegas—"to increase speed to market of [components for] emissions-regulated vehicles."

However, SEMA counsel John R. Deane III, on the same forum panel, warned that failure to comply could lead to huge fines. He noted that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had issued fines approaching $1 million for noncompliance.

That noted, Deane also told the SEMA forum attendees that working with CARB provided a clear benefit; that if a manufacturer secured an executive order for a product, it not only was legally marketable in California but in the other 49 states.

Isn't CARB known to be hard to deal with? Deane said that CARB's executive order system actually provides a clear-cut path to approval, if an aftermarket manufacturer can navigate around the potential pitfalls. At present, an aftermarket manufacturer can submit a request to CARB, listing all vehicle applications. CARB then issues a letter describing the tests required and selects perhaps a couple of worst-case vehicles for test, to leave the parts maker the least amount of wiggle room. The tests would be performed by a CARB-recognized laboratory, and if the part passed, an executive order would be issued. If it didn't pass, the manufacturer typically had no idea why, and might find its product bouncing back and forth between its engineering staff and the laboratory.

Deane said SEMA now was working with CARB to develop a less onerous path to approval, with a specific but more representative group of vehicles, starting with the Detroit 3 makes. To date, he said, a Ford F-150, Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and pickup (likely a Silverado) have tentatively been agreed upon, and the choice of appropriate Chrysler products is in discussion.

SEMA proposed approach 

Once the list is complete, SEMA will buy the vehicles, which would be available to CU-ICAR for baseline data. If outlier vehicles are identified, including import nameplates, SEMA would buy them for the program. Vehicles would be sold after use and new ones bought as necessary.

The difference in the procedures between an aftermarket manufacturer directly dealing with CARB and the SEMA approach is clear: SEMA develops a test criteria letter, a preliminary test is performed at the CU-ICAR facility or the soon-to-open SEMA Garage, and if the part passes, a full-bore emissions test is run at a CARB-recognized facility, including the SEMA Garage when ready. From there on, SEMA continues to carry the ball and, assuming a Pass, submits data to CARB and gets the executive order.

If there is an issue, the CU-ICAR facility can interpret the data, going step by step through it, in micro-second, in-cylinder pressure increments, pre-catalyst and post-catalyst, Prucka said, to identify the issue and develop a solution. The laboratory is state of the art, Prucka added, including an AC dynamometer rated at 125 hp/wheel, and is set up to perform all of the EPA drive cycles.

"There's no trial and error," he asserted.

CU-ICAR cannot legally provide certification data to CARB as it also is a state facility (South Carolina), so its participation is limited to data analysis and problem-solving.

CAFE challenge

The aftermarket performance parts manufacturers will soon be facing a new challenge, noted another forum participant, Brett Smith, Program Director at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit research organization based in Ann Arbor, MI. Smith pointed to the increasing effect of the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. He noted that just 5% of the 2013 production could meet the 2025 EPA carbon (CO2) emissions standards, and those are hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and electric vehicles (EVs). That indicates considerable work has to be done to improve gasoline engines.

"Since the 2025 model year standards are over a decade away, there's considerable time for the OE to make continued improvements in gasoline vehicle technology," he said.

However, it means that the gasoline engine powertrains may suffer decreased performance in an exchange for greater fuel economy, Smith said. That would seem to create an opportunity for the aftermarket performance parts featured by many SEMA members. But he added that engines "will be pushed to the limits, which may leave little room for aftermarket performance enhancements."

Smith said the internal-combustion engine is likely to remain the dominant choice, while noting that PHEVs and EVs are struggling to get high-volume acceptance. But he saw "great uncertainty" about the extent to which at least some significant number of hybrids will be needed to meet the 2025 numbers. Further, California regulations effectively require that 15% of vehicles for sale in the state in 2025 be zero emission (EVs and some PHEVs). If states that normally follow California's emission/fuel economy lead do so with the zero mandate, that could affect over 30% of the market. Another factor Smith said could affect the aftermarket is that the OE products will require a lot of technology that "may drive up the price of new cars, by as much as several thousand dollars."

The CAFE standards are "footprint-based," so vehicles with a larger footprint (track width x wheelbase), such as full-size trucks, have a lower CAFE requirement than do smaller vehicles (see http://articles.sae.org/12604/). The footprint approach was developed to meet the Congressional mandate that a vehicle fleet of similar size be maintained as the regulatory process moved toward 2025, not force a switch to very small cars.

Further, the EPA CAFE numbers are based on projections of vehicle footprints for anticipated vehicle fleets. So CO2 g/mi, (and NHTSA conversions to mpg) are not regulatory mandates. And CAFE permits taking special statutory credits for EVs, PHEVs, even low-global-warming A/C refrigerants, and other changes, such as thermal management technologies and energy-efficient lighting.

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