Obstacles still to be overcome on march to 35 mpg

  • 20-Apr-2009 05:05 EDT
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John Juriga, Director–Powertrain, Hyundai-Kia Technical Center Inc., said that the technology to get to 35 mpg "is known and in most cases in production today,” but obstacles remain related to industry determination, government cooperation, and customer acceptance.

There appeared to be a consensus among the panelists at Monday’s introductory FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum panel discussion—The Road Map to 35 mpg: What Technologies Will Get Us There?—that the difficulty of meeting the corporate average fuel economy target of 35 mpg no longer lies purely in the technology arena. All could also agree, however, that there will still be plenty of difficulty in meeting that goal. 

“The technology is the easy part,” said John W. Juriga, Director–Powertrain, Hyundai-Kia Technical Center Inc., during the SAE World Congress panel discussion. “All the technology to get to 35 mpg is known, and in most cases in production today. All of the major OEMs possess the knowledge and have the technology today. That’s not what is stopping us.”

He went on to cite issues surrounding industry determination and commitment, government cooperation and commitment, and customer acceptance and understanding.

“The technology we have heard is available, and that’s true,” said Norbert Krause, Director–Engineering & Environmental Office, Volkswagen of America. “But we have to bring it for a reasonable price and into our cars at a price the customer is willing to pay for.”

Panelist John M. German, Senior Fellow, International Council for Clean Transportation, also noted the impact that cost will have on customer acceptance of technology and ultimately the meeting of the 35-mpg goal.

“The technology costs are going to be paid up front by the consumer, but the benefits don’t happen up front,” German said. “The benefits happen over time due to the fuel savings. The problem is, those future fuel savings are highly uncertain. The more uncertain the benefits are, the more consumers will not place the bet.”

German also stated his belief that time has replaced technology as the premier obstacle to achieving 35 mpg.

“The real barrier is not technology, it’s lead time,” German said. “Actually, there’s too much technology coming. It’s very difficult to sort through all this. The manufacturer that makes an early bet on a technology and is wrong is going to suffer greatly in the competition, so we have to go through this process, meet a rigorous development cycle of two to three years, must be able to prove a new technology in production on a limited number of vehicles for a couple of years, and then you need at least five years to spread it across the fleet.”

Panelist Johannes-Joerg Rueger, Senior Vice President, Robert Bosch, disagreed with the notion that there is too much technology available in the market today. 

“From our perspective, it’s not too much technology,” Rueger said. “We are highly in favor of competing technologies in the market. We shouldn’t pick the winners; the market should pick the winners, and we should simply compete with all that we have because otherwise 35 mpg might not be possible.”

Much of the debate among the panelists centered on the decision to pursue diesel or hybrid technology.

“A lot of people talk about diesel versus. hybrids. I don’t consider it to be a competition,” German said. “Diesels are going to appeal for towing, large to light trucks, rural areas where they do a lot of highway driving, whereas hybrids are probably going to appeal more in smaller cars and in urban areas.”

Rueger rejected the premise that diesels are particularly beneficial in one type of environment.

“One statement that is a kind of myth is that diesels are only good for larger vehicles,” Rueger said. “The fuel-economy advantage in percentage is across the board, no matter with a large or a small vehicle.”

Hyundai-Kia’s Juriga acknowledged that the path to 35 mpg may be a bit easier with diesel, as compared to gasoline; however, obstacles still remain.

“The applications challenges for gasoline are going to be a little bit more significant, but because of our environment in North America, I think most customers still prefer gasoline, so we have to work on gasoline as well as diesel technologies,” he said.

While the challenges surrounding gasoline are deemed to be a bit more significant, Juriga believes a strict attention to detail can help meet the target.

“We need to look at every detail of the internal-combustion engine and focus on the small things because there is not going to be many huge low-hanging fruits to be had,” he said.

A focus on the fundamentals was also put forth by Charles Klein, Director–Global Mass, Energy, and Aerodynamics, General Motors. Efficient systems, he said, can benefit the whole vehicle to different degrees, while also being cost-effective.

“We need to take a total-vehicle approach to fuel economy,” Klein said. “One where we look at not just the attributes of propulsion but the attributes of the vehicle that could contribute to any application, ranging from aerodynamic drag reduction, mass-efficient architectures, low chassis losses, regulated voltage control, electric power steering, and variable-displacement ac compressors—fundamentals that on a global basis are not consistently or commonly rolled out.”

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