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High Fuel Efficiency Gains From Gas Engines And More On The Horizon


Unless consumers have been hiding under a rock, the news is out there over the federal government’s proposed plans to develop new standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2017 to 2025. These will be tougher standards that pick up on the previously-announced rulemaking governing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for model years 2012 to 2016. The ones under consideration now are roughly equivalent to 47 to 62 mpg fuel economy by the year 2025. This is going to be tough for automakers to achieve, but the road there may not be entirely through electrics and hybrids.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

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In fact, in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) joint technical assessment, the various scenarios proposed by the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) show improvements being made using a range of technology pathways. While the technology pathways, says the EPA joint technical assessment, are intended to show different cost impacts if the industry were to place more or less emphasis on hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or electrics, as compared to vehicle mass reduction and use of advanced gasoline technologies, much has yet to be done. In other words, there may be room yet for not-yet-developed high-fuel efficiency gasoline engines.

Consider how much more fuel efficient some four-cylinder turbocharged engines are today compared to non-turbocharged fours. As just one example of highly fuel-efficient turbocharged engines, the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the all-new compact 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco (available in late 2010) is expected to deliver an EPA-estimated 40 mpg highway, compared with an estimated 36 mpg highway with the same engine and six-speed automatic transmission in Cruze LT and LTZ.

2011 Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta

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Another all-new compact, the 2011 Ford Fiesta, with its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine with twin independent variable-cam timing (Ti-VCT) and optional Super Fuel Efficiency (SFE) package, is projected to achieve 40 mpg highway.

The mid-size all-new 2011 Hyundai Sonata will be available in 2.0T and Sonata Hybrid. The 2.0T has a four-cylinder gasoline-direct injection (GDI) turbocharged engine that delivers a projected 273 horsepower and 34 mpg projected highway fuel economy. The Sonata Hybrid, with its cooler-running, lighter-weight lithium polymer battery pack, is expected to deliver 39 mpg highway.

Advancements in transmission technology have also resulted in many automatic transmissions delivering better fuel economy than their manual counterparts--with the same engine. Some of the turbocharged engines available today achieve near-hybrid fuel economy. And this type of rapid development is only just beginning.

prototype 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, April 2010

prototype 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, April 2010

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Automotive News reports that two recent five-year automotive technology forecasts--from J.D. Power and Associates and IHS Automotive--show trends toward increasing use of gasoline direct injection, variable valve technology (VVT), turbochargers, stop-start systems, and advanced transmissions. The forecasts may differ slightly in terms of percentages, but where the industry is going--at least in the near term--is clear. By 2016, IHS Automotive predicts gasoline direct injection will be in about 38 percent of the vehicles, up from 9 percent today. The J.D. Power forecast for 2015 is around 25 percent. Other forecasts from the two companies: VVT will be in up to 90 percent of vehicles, and turbochargers will be in 12 or 25 percent of the vehicles.

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