With the low-hanging fruit identified to improve fuel economy long gone, engineers are incorporating costly technologies that will help vehicles meet fuel economy standards that get tougher each year.
Bob Lee, head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' powertrain division, said some level of electrification will be needed in every vehicle by 2025 to meet the fuel economy standard. At a minimum, that means every car will have a stop-start system, which — because of the heavier-duty battery, beefed-up starter and added software — will add around $400 to the sticker price.
If electrification is fully embraced, 48-volt electrical systems will be needed to power all the items that keep the car connected and make it autonomous.
“Forty-eight volts will play a role; how big is the question,” said Dan Nicholson, vice president in charge of GM's global propulsion systems. “Our engineers are finding little innovations that can go a long way to reducing CO2.”
To keep the engine running in its “sweet spot,” more often where it delivers optimum fuel economy, eight-, nine- and 10-speed automatic transmissions will be used. The first of those are already here, and next month, GM and Ford Motor co. plan to introduce the nine- and 10-speed transmissions both companies have developed in a joint venture.
Also: Look for GM and Ford to get back into continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) in a big way. They'll be used mostly on smaller cars, Mr. Nicholson said.
More transmission speeds, though, equals more money, so figure another $300 or so on larger vehicles, a little less on economy cars with CVTs.
Engines will continue getting smaller, and V-8s will eventually be used mostly in big trucks and SUVs and in ultra-high-performance cars, such as Shelby Mustangs and race-prepped Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes. But smaller engines won't mean smaller price tags. To preserve or even enhance performance, technology will replace displacement.
Regular passenger-car engines will be equipped with either a turbocharger — some electrically driven — or a supercharger. Most vehicles will have direct fuel injection and intake and exhaust valves that not only are infinitely adjustable for timing but also for lift. Adding all that equipment chocks another $1,000 or more onto the price.
Oil and water pumps will go electric. More exhaust gas will be re-circulated into the engine to cool the combustion chambers and enable high-compression engines to run cleanly, adding further cost.
“Continuous improvement in powertrain technology will be key to meeting CO2 requirements,” said Tony Ockelford, Ford's powertrain business planning manager.
He said Ford engineers are testing the next generation of EcoBoost engines with a different combustion strategy called Miller cycle, which lets the intake valves stay open slightly longer. As the piston comes up the bore, it pushes air back into the intake manifold. Ford is also looking at incorporating cylinder deactivation technology on its overhead-cam engines, even on its smallest engine, a 1.0-liter three-cylinder.
Ayumu Matsuo, chief engineer and operating officer at Honda R&D, said the auto maker's engineers are working on improving the thermal efficiency of internal combustion engines to greater than 50 percent. On today's engines, most of the energy produced goes out the exhaust pipe as waste heat. The 2016 Toyota Prius, for example, runs at around 40 percent. Capturing some of the energy that goes out the exhaust pipe will also drive up prices.
Mr. Matsuo said one of the technologies Honda engineers are working on is called Homogeneous Lean Charge Spark Ignition, which runs the engine in a lean state but focuses a rich mixture of fuel near the spark plug.
There's no doubt that today's vehicles are faster, cleaner, more efficient and safer than ever. But they also are becoming unaffordable. And that may be the biggest problem auto makers have to solve.
This blog appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. Reporter Richard Truett can be reached at [email protected].