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Old 10-22-2008, 06:54 AM   #1
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New developments in Turbocharging

Auto makers are working quickly to develop more efficient engines as consumers, particularly in the U.S., demand better fuel economy. One technology that is seeing a resurgence is turbocharging. Turbos have typically been used to create more powerful engines, but they can also help in making engines more efficient. They are also used in most diesels, which are usually get better mileage than similar-sized gasoline engines.

The Wall Street Journal Online talked with Adriane Brown, the president and chief executive officer of Honeywell Transportation, which supplies turbochargers to auto makers, to find out more about turbocharging. Here are edited excerpts.


Wall Street Journal: Explain turbocharging in a few sentences.

Adriane Brown: Turbochargers have been around for about 100 years, and have been applied to land vehicles for about 50 years. As we approached the 1990s and there was a need for improved efficiency, turbochargers made a transition from powering vehicles in a sports-oriented usage you hear the word turbocharge and you think of fast, you think of power and performance. An invention that Honeywell made enabled us to more precisely control the air that flows through a turbo. That capability enabled a big change in diesel vehicles that allowed better fuel economy and emissions control. Turbochargers have been applied to a broader array of vehicles. Today in Europe over half the vehicles sold are turbo diesels.


WSJ: What is the advancement that Honeywell made?

Ms. Brown: Honeywell invented variable nozzle controls on turbochargers, which we call VNT. The older wastegate turbochargers used a very simple mechanism to control the flow of air. VNT makes it possible to control the fuel and air flow with better precision to create optimal efficiency in the powertrain.

WSJ: What is coming for the U.S. regarding turbos and diesels?

Ms. Brown: Today in the U.S. about 6% of vehicles are turbocharged -- 3% diesel and 3% gas. As auto makers work to find new ways to create efficiency, the downsizing of engines with a turbocharger provides a great solution. In the U.S., we're know for wanting horsepower; we like drivability. With a downsized turbocharged vehicle, you get the benefit of fuel efficiency with lower emissions and the vehicles are just as fun to drive.

In Europe, with more than 50% being diesel already, they are looking to reduce CO2 emissions with downsized gasoline engines and now we are seeing 20-plus percent growth for gas-turbocharged engines. We are seeing gasoline downsizing being brought to the U.S. A case in point is Ford's EcoBoost coming in the Lincoln MKS platform. Ford downsized the engine and turbocharged it to get the benefits of drivability with hopefully 20% better fuel economy compared with a larger engine.

WSJ: What are the downsides of turbocharging?

Ms. Brown: The important piece that we want to focus on as we expand and bring a broader variety of turbo solutions is really reliability. We work closely with auto makers to design in these turbochargers so that it makes for a great solution for the consumer without any concerns about performance long-term in the vehicle. These are complex systems, the auto maker is trying to hit their emissions and performance targets and their cost targets.


WSJ: If gas prices drop back will that undermine the current push toward fuel efficiency in the market?

Ms. Brown: I think that this cycle is going to be more sustained. I don't think that the public is willing to accept vehicles that don't get fuel economy in the mid-20s and 30s. And why should they given that technologies are economically feasible to make these vehicles possible. Whether I pay $2 for gas or $4 for gas, why wouldn't I want 20% better fuel economy in a gasoline vehicle or 40% fuel economy in an diesel. It just makes sense. Turbocharging is a solution that I see becoming, over time, a standard piece of equipment. Why wouldn't we see a turbo in every vehicle?
Write to David Patton at david.patton@wsj.com
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