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Old 01-14-2009, 06:12 AM   #1
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Hybrids threatened by new gas engine technologies

Hybrids and electric cars are generating the buzz this week at Detroit's North American International Auto Show. But thanks to new technology, the century-old internal-combustion engine appears poised to make a significant leap in fuel efficiency.

While car makers are showcasing gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids and concept cars powered by fuel-cell batteries, they also are rolling out vehicles with advanced gasoline engines that rely on a technology known as direct fuel injection.

Analysts say sales of vehicles with such engines -- which deliver greater fuel economy and power than today's similarly sized gas engines -- will far exceed those of hybrids and electrics for years to come.

U.S. sales of hybrids will rise to 578,000 by 2014 from 353,000 this year, according to CSM Worldwide. But the forecasting firm projects that sales of vehicles using direct-injection gas engines will jump to 5.1 million by 2014 from 585,000 this year.

Globally, hybrid, plug-in and battery-only vehicles will capture about 14% of the automotive market by 2020, according to IHS Global Insight, another forecasting firm.

"Leaping to a new technology is really a big risk," said Eric Fedewa, CSM's vice president of global powertrain forecasting. "It's much more cost effective and much less risk to do something to an existing, proven technology."

All auto makers are under pressure to boost fuel economy to meet stricter governmental standards. But consumers are fickle when it comes to buying superefficient vehicles.

Sales of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius, the best-known hybrid, zoomed last year when gas prices hit $4 a gallon in the U.S. But now, with gas costing less than half that, Toyota has seen Prius sales slow dramatically and it recently mothballed a U.S. factory slated to build the model.

One big hurdle hybrids face is higher sticker prices, often thousands of dollars more than the same model with a traditional engine. It takes years for a customer to earn back this cost through gas savings.

Early this decade, car makers looked to the diesel engine for better mileage. But in the U.S., many turned away from that strategy for passenger cars as the cost of making diesel engines "clean" increased by thousands of dollars per vehicle after federal environmental regulations tightened. Also, diesel fuel costs more than gasoline.

The internal-combustion engine "will likely remain the backbone of mobility for the foreseeable future," said Daimler AG Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche. He said his company has been able to improve the efficiency of gas and diesel engines by about 23% and "there is still further to go."

At the car show, BMW AG displayed hybrid concepts of its 7-Series and X6 models that combine V8 engines with a two-mode hybrid to deliver a 20% improvement in fuel economy. But the German maker also expects it could still get up to a 10% improvement in fuel economy with tweaks to its existing lineup of gasoline engines, said Klaus Draeger, a member of BMW's executive board.

Leading the way are direct-injection engines, which take highly pressurized fuel and thrust it squarely into the combustion chamber of each cylinder. By contrast, traditional engines first mix fuel with incoming air before reaching the combustion chamber, which is less efficient. Car maker say the advantages of direct injection are lower emissions, better performance and greater fuel efficiency.

Ford Motor Co. rolled out its EcoBoost direct-injection technology, which promises greater performance while offering as much as a 20% increase in fuel economy over the same-size traditional engine. It will first be available later this year in the Ford Flex seven-passenger crossover wagon. By 2012, Ford expects to produce 750,000 EcoBoost vehicles annually world-wide, said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's global vice president for product development.

The company argues the premium for EcoBoost -- a price Ford has not disclosed -- is a better value than a hybrid or diesel. Mr. Kuzak said that, assuming a gallon of gas is $3 or less, it would take 12 to 18 months to see the cost savings of owning an EcoBoost vehicle. The equivalent for a hybrid, he said, is five to seven years and as long as a decade for diesel at current prices.

At General Motors Corp., 38 models will use direct-injection engines by next year, totaling about 10% of its global production. "On the journey to electrification of vehicles, we think we're going to need to make significant improvements in gasoline engines," said Sam Winegarden, GM's executive director of engineering.

GM and other makers are also trying to develop a gas engine using a technology called homogenous-charge compression-ignition, or HCCI. The technology is believed capable of providing as much as a 30% boost in fuel economy by burning gas faster at lower temperatures and reducing some of the energy lost during the combustion process.

"HCCI would be the next logical extension of improving the gas engine," Mr. Winegarden said, adding that HCCI is likely to hit the market within the next 10 years.

Major auto makers expect to sell a variety of vehicle technologies, but offer most models with gasoline engines. "I don't think one technology will outdate another. They'll layer," said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Much of the electrification strategy touted by auto makers counts on hefty incentives, including tax breaks to make buying a hybrid or battery-powered car easier on consumers' wallets. Without such incentives, the costs of creating a robust electric- and hybrid-car market will be prohibitively high, according to a new report from Boston Consulting Group.

Even many environmentalists say that improving the gas engine is a good near-term solution. "There is no silver bullet -- we need a silver buckshot," said Luke Tonachel, vehicles analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We need cars that go further on less gas. We'll need to embrace all of the technology."

—Kate Linebaugh and Jeff Bennett contributed to this article.

Rich Belloff

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Old 01-14-2009, 07:16 AM   #2
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I know my response is pubescent, BUT...

Hybrids are stupid.
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Old 01-14-2009, 08:11 AM   #3
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Any new foray into gas powered technology should be short term, we need to get away from oil, we should have moved in that direction a a long time ago during Carter's presidency, when I pumped gas continuously 9 hours a day. There was a company mandated three dollar limit.

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Old 01-14-2009, 08:22 AM   #4
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They make it sound like it has to be one or the other. There's no reason they couldn't use a direct injection engine in a hybrid.
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Old 01-14-2009, 08:43 AM   #5
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I remember a big fuss about direct injection a few years ago, but then it all went quiet. I thought that, despite better economy and emissions, it made less power than equivalent engines -but maybe I dreamt it

Some interesting background is at wikipedia

I agree with EE3racing -there's only so much gas in the ground and one day we'll have to find something new.

I love gas engines though, so hopefully stuff like this will push that day off a bit..
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Old 01-14-2009, 09:06 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by roadracer311
They make it sound like it has to be one or the other. There's no reason they couldn't use a direct injection engine in a hybrid.
Electric motors are wonderful. They don't weigh much, are about 90% efficient, have a ruler flat torque curve, require no maintenance or repairs for up to 10 years or more. No oil changes, no tuneups, no IMS failures, no nuthin'. An electric powered car can be very very fast.

The problem is energy storage.
A gallon of gas weighs 6lbs. A battery bank with energy storage equal to a gallon of gas weighs about 160lbs. So a 10 gallon range battery weighs 1600lbs. Now fully half of the energy stored is used to drag around those heavy batteries.

Until we have lightweight high capacity batteries the hybrid makes the most sense. An efficient electric drive motor, a battery bank to store energy (a few gallons of gas), and a small efficient gas generator and small gas tank to keep the batteries charged and assist during heavy acceleration. On a long trip you can fill up and keep driving normally.

In the next 5 years I think we will see radical improvements in hybrid technology. More efficient and lighter batteries, better dynamic braking(to reuse energy during breaking that is normally lost to heat), and more efficient gas/diesel onboard generators for extended range. Energy storage is the key.
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Old 01-14-2009, 02:32 PM   #7
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I think hybrids don't make sense, when viewed from a larger perspective. Hybrids take a tremendous amount more energy to build (I'm including the energy costs of producing the materials used in the vehicle as well as the assembly process), have a much more complex and potentially polluting end-of-life/recycling path. They also are heavy consumers of materials that are in short supply from sources that employ less than optimal environmental practices (e.g. cobalt for the Li-P or Li ion batteries, mostly mined in the Congo; neodymium for the motor/generator, mined in China, with the supply being manipulated by the Chinese government).

Hybrids also don't make sense to me from a practicality/efficiency perspective, either. Take a look at the story on the previous generation Audi A2:


This amazing 1.2L turbodiesel vehicle had better performance than today's Prius, and delivered better than 3 L/100 km (over 78 mpg) in the EC drive cycle. The optimal efficient and overall low emission, low energy vehicle design seems to be a combination of lightweight, high-strength construction (extensive use of aluminum alloy), modern safe vehicle design (airbags, belt tighteners, stability control, active headrests), high efficiency / low emission 1.2L turbodiesels (with low-sulfur diesel and particulate traps), and roomy sedan/hatchback design.

IIRC, there's a quote in the most recent R&T from a BMW engineer who stated that gasoline vehicles in the EU are a non-factor in sales when compared with diesel vehicles.

Since we can't seem to get vehicles like the old A2 here in the US, when I went out shopping to replace my M3 with a commute car, I ended up with a Honda Fit Sport. Good overall mileage (~32 mpg in commute use for me, 40+ on the highway), cheap price, excellent features and high degree of utility, and it's also a lot of fun to drive. I also looked at the Honda Civic Hybrid, and found it to be expensive (in comparison), toady-looking, and dull to drive. The new Honda Insight Hybrid (sort of a Fit-like Hybrid) looks to be a significant improvement (cheaper, nicer, may even be fun to drive), but I'd rather have seen a Fit with a 1.2L turbodiesel version instead - which is what will probably be marketed in the EU, eventually.
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Old 01-14-2009, 05:27 PM   #8
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And Ford wonders why they're hemorrhaging cash? Do they make DFI available on their Focus so they can compete with Toyota and Honda? No, they put it on their biggest and ugliest vehicle ever trying to boost its sales. They don't get it. I used to bleed Ford blue but I've got no use for the behemoths they're pandering.

And why don't auto manufacturers sell diesels here in the US? I've heard / read various reasons (see below), but they seem stupid to me. Does anyone know why?

Are any of these true?
1. Our refineries are only capable of creating enough diesel for 18 wheeler consumption. We need more refineries and that's not happening. Without a ample supply of diesel, manufacturers aren't going into that market.

2. US regulations are stricter than in Europe, making it less feasible for diesels vs gas engines.

3. GM killed the US diesel mkt with their ill-fated '79 & '80 gas engine-converted-to-diesel which broke cranks at an alarming rate. (They really hurt the mkt but people surely wouldn't remember something that happened 30 yrs ago.)

It seems we read / see / hear about all these great diesels in Europe and there's not a chance they'll come stateside. What a shame. I recently saw a TV ad for a VW diesel. Maybe they'll jump-start the sales here in the US.
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Old 01-14-2009, 06:03 PM   #9
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I'm surprised nobody pointed out the 2008 Cayennes all have direct injection. I bought an '08 Cayenne S last May. Plenty of power, and from what I can tell, much better mileage than the first gen non-DFI ones earlier. I've been shocked to get a hair over 20 MPG on the highway at 75+ MPH, while the window sticker estimates 19 on the highway. Stop and go commute mileage is usually around 16+, which isn't bad for a very heavy, high performance SUV. No reliability problems so far in the first 12K miles. I'm sold on DFI technology based on this experience
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Old 01-16-2009, 09:08 AM   #10
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re: Ford - they have really great versions of the Focus with the latest engine efficiency technology in the EU - but not available here. BMW - only recently is bringing their high efficiency diesel models to the US. VW - only offers a limited selection of their efficient models to the US. I'm sure the same is true of nearly every major player in the EU auto market.

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