Downsizing and driver behavior among near-term solutions

  • 22-Apr-2009 02:17 EDT

Uwe Grebe, Executive Director, Advanced Engineering, General Motors Powertrain, said during the “Near Term Powertrain Solutions” panel session at the SAE 2009 World Congress that “agreeing on one set of standards and having the entire industry jointly pursuing one standard is I think a great opportunity to concentrate the resources in the right way.”

With an eye toward near-term powertrain solutions, the attendees at Tuesday’s opening AVL Technology Leadership Theater session could all agree that despite the multitude of options on the powertrain horizon, there is still significant potential for further improvement with the conventional engine and transmission.

Downsizing was the technology that received the most attention among panelists as a way to quickly improve fuel economy.

Dan Kapp, Director-Powertrain Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Co., discussed the company’s use of EcoBoost technology and its ability to offer significant improvements to a multitude of customers in a short time frame without considerable cost.

“By far the cornerstone of our sustainability strategy through the near and mid-term is EcoBoost engine technology,” Kapp said. “As we then look into the mid-term, given the opportunity to freshen vehicle platforms, we focus a great deal on weight reduction and then with weight reduction we have the synergy of yet another iteration of engine downsizing taking advantage of the EcoBoost technology.”

Roger J. Wood, Executive Vice President, BorgWarner Inc., President, BorgWarner Turbo & Emissions Systems, concurred with Kapp’s remarks about engine downsizing as a way to achieve reduced emissions and improved fuel economy and cited statistics showing four-cylinder engines accounting for 70% of the incremental growth globally over the next five years.

“We feel this trend will continue as technologies are available to allow smaller, more energy efficient engines to be installed in vehicles without sacrificing performance,” Wood said.

One challenge related to downsizing that will have to be overcome is North American customers’ tendency to strictly focus on the numbers of cylinders, displacement, and horsepower.

“We’re going to have to challenge that perception in our approach to marketing,” Kapp said.  “The best way we’ve overcome that is to put people in the vehicles and drive the technologies side by side, and when the V6 boosted engine is running past the large V8 engine, you quickly get past that.”

“Numbers are good to talk about, but feeling the elasticity of the vehicle, feeling what the acceleration is when we use boosting systems is what will really make this technology happen as a reality,” said Uwe Grebe, Executive Director, Advanced Engineering, General Motors Powertrain." In the European market, the diesel has not taken a market share of much over 50% because of the fuel economy only, it’s achieving this market share because it’s fun to drive. This is what in the end will convince customers to accept these technologies.”

Despite this downsizing, one number panelists forecast to climb in the future is the number of speeds soon to be available in automatic transmissions.

“Three, four, and five speeds are being replaced with six, seven, and eight speed traditional automatic transmissions,” BorgWarner’s Wood said. Kapp also referenced the belief that Ford is expected to offer only six-speed transmissions by the year 2012.

Methods for achieving fuel economy and emissions improvements were not limited to changes being made to engines. Minoru Shinohara, Senior Vice President of the Technology Development Division of Nissan Motor Co., discussed several technologies under development providing ways to help consumers drive more efficiently.

Solutions such as Nissan’s Dynamic Route Guidance system, deployed initially in Yokohama, Japan, have helped achieve a 17% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 20% reduction in driving time.

“We can reduce CO2 very impressively by changing drivers’ behavior,” Shinohara said. “We need to make every effort, not just on vehicle technologies, on changing drivers’ behavior and traffic or mobility society improvements.”

GM’s Grebe said the highest impact that can be made on greenhouse gas emissions using conventional engine technology can be achieved with the use of alternative fuels. By using ethanol in the combustion engine, he stated a 70 to 96% reduction of greenhouse gas can be achieved.

“When we combine spark-ignited engines with ethanol, there are a lot of synergistic benefits such as the high octane rating of the fuel helps us to increase compression ratio or boost level in the engines,” Grebe said. “Of course, we need to work on next-generation ethanol, ethanol that is not derived from grain but utilizes wood waste, municipal waste, all kind of carbon carrying material in order to convert this into fuels.”

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