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Guide To Future Fuel Efficiency

Rex Roywriter

Following up on April's passage of new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, the EPA and NHTSA recently released the government's roadmap as to how they think automakers can reach mileage goals of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Enthusiasts may well be wondering how manufacturers will achieve the 31-percent gain (over 2007 CAFE) in just these few shorts years. The government's projections, based on considerable modeling, are outlined in the accompanying graphics.

Basically, the gains are expected to come from four broad categories:

  • Engine technologies
  • Transmission technologies
  • Vehicle/chassis/body technologies
  • Electrification/accessory and hybrid technologies

Looking in detail at the projections, bureaucrats see 44-percent of engines using direct fuel injection and a full quarter being turbocharged. Furthermore, fully one third of cars will feature generators that are also the car's starter motor, facilitating auto-engine-stop capabilities.

While the above technologies may happen, others seem much less likely. For example, dual-clutch and/or automated manual gearboxes will proliferate seemingly overnight to 61-percent for cars and a whopping 92-percent of trucks. Currently, no light duty trucks offer this technology, and dual-clutch gearboxes are just beginning to be seen on premium European sports cars. This particular example seems less than plausible given this reality and the time it takes to design, test, and introduce this type of new technology.

The government's projections also seem to predict the end of the cam-in-block engine. As engines are downsized, cam-in-block architecture becomes less appealing for engineers. General Motors may become the last holdout for using the design, and then only in trucks and SUVs that require low-cost, high-torque engines.

Curiously, penetration for hybrid vehicles remains low, at only 5-percent for cars and 2-percent for trucks. The projects break out two-mode hybrid systems like those used on General Motors full-size trucks and SUVs, and see this technology have zero-percent penetration. Given projections of a 16-million year for 2016, selling even tens of thousands of two-mode hybrids wouldn't even reach a single percent.

The projections for how quickly more efficient technologies will be implemented is interesting, and several trends emerge. In the near future, the American new car fleet will be, on average, smaller and lighter. Engine size (displacement) will drop. Powertrains will be more complex.

The industry is already reacting and two examples illustrate the trend. The Ford Taurus SHO, previously a V-8 powered sport sedan, came back into the market for 2010 with a higher-mpg twin-turbo V-6 instead of a V-8. Additionally, Audi recently said that it would not continue development of its V-10 for road car applications. It will instead focus on V-8 alternatives. Audi is also phasing out its V-8 S4 and S5 models and using a more efficient and smaller supercharged V-6 instead. Examples at BMW and Mercedes exist as well.

According to Eric Fedewa, VP of Global Powertrain Forecasting for CMS Worldwide, "The Volpe modeling process used by the government for these projections is robust. The people who helped develop it are engineers and mathematicians who know what they're doing. Our company believes that the forecasts are generally accurate and that manufacturers can meet these standards with the product plans they have in place."

We asked Fedewa how much CMS Worldwide estimated that these changes would add to the cost of a new vehicle. Fedewa said, "The Obama administration estimated that the additional cost per unit for the added efficiency will be approximately $1,100. Our estimate is about $2,000 per vehicle. When you look at a market that's selling at a rate of nine million units, that works out to be a whole lot of money." Fedewa pointed out that some vehicles can reach their CAFE targets easily with little added technology, while larger vehicles (such as trucks) may require expensive hybrid systems to comply.

Fedewa also said, "Currently, manufacturers are not sure whether they will be able to pass along such steep cost increases to consumers." Regardless of cost, it seems that the changes are coming. At least now you know what to expect.