The Truth About Cars » Fuel Efficiency The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fuel Efficiency Toyota Unveils New Duo Of Fuel-Efficient Engines Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:30:57 +0000 1.3L_gasoline_engine

Toyota has unveiled this week two new fuel-efficient gasoline engines that will serve as the basis for as many as 14 global powerplants by 2015, and boost economy by 10 percent.

Automotive News reports the two engines — 1.3-liter four-pot and 1-liter three-pot — are Atkinson cycle powerplants co-developed with partner Daihatsu, and feature fuel-efficiency goodies such as EGR, VVT and stop-start technology.

On the power front — especially since Atkinson cycle engines are more known for their efficiency than for destroying ‘Ring times — the Toyota engines will deliver high compression ratios of 13.5 for the larger engine, 11.5 for the smaller. In turn, thermal efficiency in the duo will hit a maximum of 38 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

As for where the duo and their children will reside, expect the home market to have the first crack via the automaker’s line of non-hybrid compacts before taking the global stage the following year in both non-hybrid and hybrid vehicles, as well as larger premium offerings.

1.3L_gasoline_engine 1.0L_gasoline_engine exhaust_pipe Tumble ]]> 59
European-Style Octane Could Boost Efficiency, Power In US Engines Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:45:24 +0000 Octane

Should United States gasoline octane standards be updated to match those in Europe, fuel efficiency could see a significant improvement, along with increases in engine power.

Ward’s Auto reports the Detroit Three powertrain bosses laid-out their case for increasing octane ratings before attendees at this year’s SAE World Congress. In short, by matching ratings with those in Europe — where the highest rating is 95+ — engineers could build engines for higher compression, leading to increases in fuel efficiency and power instead of the losses in both found in engines made for the U.S. market, where the highest rating available is 91.

The idea has precedent, as diesel fuel was brought in line with European standards seven years ago, with improvements to both engines and emissions as a result.

Though the Detroit Three bosses brought the issue up with the Department of Energy and various power players within the Beltway, only now have they brought it before the public, as Ford chief Bob Fascetti explains:

I can’t say we’ve actually lobbied together, but it’s a common-sense thing. If we had a single-octane fuel that was higher, then we can take advantage of that for the customer, we can implement higher compression ratios and we won’t be knock-limited on the fuel. It’s win-win for the innovators as well as for the customers.

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Department of Energy Looking At Suppliers For Revamped Fuel-Efficiency Loan Program Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:45:39 +0000 US_Dept_of_Energy_Forrestal_Building

Established in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program lent a total of $8.3 billion (out of the budgeted $25 billion) to Nissan, Tesla, Ford and Fisker, yet has not been able to make new loans for a number of reasons since 2011.

That status, however, is about to change.

Autoblog Green reports DOE secretary Earnest Moniz announced the program will be retooled with a focus upon suppliers. Improvements to the program will include clarifying eligibility requirements for potential applicants, better responsiveness toward applicants, and a revised application process.

As for said applicants, the program wants to bring in companies who help make fuel-efficient vehicles possible, including suppliers of “advanced engines and powertrains, light-weighting materials, advanced electronics, and fuel-efficient tires.”

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Volvo Drive-E Modular Engines Lay Foundation For Future Hybrids Fri, 21 Mar 2014 12:01:56 +0000 volvo-drive-e-engine000-1

Beginning with the 2015 model year, Volvo’s S60, V60 and XC60 will come with the automaker’s new Drive-E Volvo Engine Architecture family of small three- and four-pot gasoline and diesel engines, laying the foundation for PHEVs down the road.

Autoblog Green reports the VEA engines now making their way into 2015 models include a turbo/super-four gasoline monster pumping 302 horsepower, a 240-horsepower turbo-four, and a twin-turbo-four diesel good for 178 horses. All three displace 2 liters under the bonnet, and are mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission designed to Drive-E’s goal of enhancing fuel efficiency.

By MY 2017, Volvo will introduce an additional pair of 2-liter turbocharged gasoline engines and a trinity of 2-liter turbodiesels, all organized in two clusters of four split between performance and economy. The economical gasoline engines are expected to range between 148 and 186 horsepower, while the diesels will move 118 to 147 horses.

The VEA family came about in 2007 during Volvo’s time with Ford, where the automaker’s engineers used Ford engines to build upon their own ideas, only to realize a better way by making the business case for building their own engines so as to not disturb Ford’s manufacturing processes.

However, when the case was presented to CEO Alan Mullaly, Mullaly directed the Swedes to future owner Geely, as Ford was in the process of selling Volvo to the Chinese automaker at the time. The VEA project became a key part of the sale to Geely in 2010, receiving a huge push to the tune of $11 billion, shared with Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture set to underpin future vehicles.

Speaking of the future, the engines were designed with PHEVs in mind, and thus include necessary components that could be easily connected to an electric motor system fitted either with the engine — thanks to the latter’s compact size — or in the rear of the vehicle. At present, the VEA Drive-E family offers stop-start technology, brake regeneration, CVVT and more.

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EPA Confirms: America’s Most Fuel-Efficient Cars Are Not American Fri, 15 Mar 2013 20:03:22 +0000

Fuel economy of vehicles sold in the U.S. is on the rise, recording the sharpest gains in almost four decades, an annual report by the EPA shows. Foreign automakers have the most efficient fleets.

The EPA report shows an average 16 percent gain in fuel efficiency for in the past five years, to 23.8 miles per gallon.  The EPA’s list is led by foreign carmakers, with Detroit sharing the bottom places with purveyors of thirsty performance cars.

EPA Fleet Fuel Economy 2012
Honda 26.4
VW 26.2
Mazda 25.9
Toyota 25.6
Subaru 25.2
Nissan 24.6
All 23.8
Ford 23.2
BMW 23.1
GM 21.4
Daimler 21.4
Chrysler-Fiat 20.6

TrueCar’s sales-weighted fleet fuel economy report paints a similar picture. Remember: Fuel efficient cars do no good if they sit in the showroom or in the catalog. They must be sold and replace fuel thirsty cars to make a difference.

TrueCar Sales-weighted  Fleet Fuel Economy
Average MPG Average Car MPG Average Truck MPG
Manufacturer Jan’13 Jan’12 YoY Jan’13 Jan’12 YoY Jan’13 Jan’12 YoY
Hyundai 26.8 26.8 0 28.4 28.5 -0.1 23.1 23.2 -0.1
Honda 25.9 25.4 0.5 29.6 28.9 0.6 22.4 22.4 0
Volkswagen 25.9 25.8 0.1 26.9 27.2 -0.2 21.9 21.7 0.2
Nissan 24.9 23.6 1.3 29.8 26.6 3.1 20.1 20 0.1
Toyota 24.6 24.6 -0.1 29.6 29.6 -0.1 19.2 19.4 -0.2
Industry 23.4 22.9 0.5 27.4 26.6 0.8 19.9 19.6 0.3
Ford 22.8 21.7 1.1 29.2 26.8 2.4 19.9 19.6 0.4
GM 21.3 21.2 0.1 25.3 24.9 0.3 19 18.9 0.1
Chrysler 20.7 19.5 1.2 23.9 22.5 1.4 18.9 18.2 0.8
Source: TrueCar TrueMPG

The EPA punished Hyundai’s MPG-shenanigans by not listing the Korean maker. TrueCar uses the restated data, with Hyundai still on top.

If you miss data broken out by segment, size, and other criteria, the EPA has a long list of data. TrueCar does likewise.

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Oregon Considers Per-Mile Tax On Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Fri, 04 Jan 2013 15:51:38 +0000

“Everybody uses the road and if some pay and some don’t then that’s an unfair situation that’s got to be resolved,” said Jim Whitty, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.

Ah, yes. As with any number of current governmental activities, the rationale for per-mile taxation will be fairness.

With the recent American election safely delivered into the appropriate hands, there’s no longer any need to sugar-coat the facts of life in the United States, is there? So let’s not. The unemployment rate is dipping because many people have simply given up and have either stopped looking for work or have dropped off the five-year cliff beyond which the Bureau of Labor no longer considers people unemployed – as if being unable to find a job for five years and one day was somehow equivalent to swanning one’s way off to Sun City, AZ. Meanwhile, we’re reassured that the middle class hasn’t disappeared — it just looks like the lower class now.

This modern life, this grey parade of single mothers and hopeless, underemployed men listlessly piloting the oldest automotive fleet in the country’s history between 29-hour-a-week “part-time” jobs, dismal food, and lonely evenings lit only by the constant flickering of the Internet as the one-percenters and rich kids of Instagram breeze past in an ever more obscene panoply of tasteless, pumped-up hyper-SUVs and bluff-faced, BMW-based Rolls-Royces. It’s not just bad for morale. It’s bad for taxes. And if some of the nation’s proles have the nerve to swing a loan for a more fuel-efficient car in the hopes of simultaneously preserving scarce resources and making a long-term positive economic impact in their own lives… well, something will have to be done.

The Statesman-Journal reports that Oregon has started a pilot program to study the implementation of a per-mile travel charge. This was apparently done in response to stricter CAFE standards and concerns that a smaller fleet of more fuel-efficient vehicles would impact gas taxes, which are already declining as more and more people just stay home.

Under the pilot, about 50 participants in Oregon paid 1.56 cents per mile and received a credit for the gas tax they paid at the pump. Participants, which mainly included transportation officials and lawmakers, chose from five plans with different ways to track miles driven and pay their bill.

They could report miles driven using a smartphone application, a geographic positioning system device or a reporting device without GPS.

Participants could also pay a flat annual charge or opt out of using a gadget in the vehicle to record miles.

The existing state gas tax is thirty cents per gallon, so this program would effectively return revenues to the days when the notoriously thirsty Ford Explorer was simultaneously doing 400,000 units or more a year and punishing the buyer of each one with real-world fuel mileage in the 15-mpg range. If you’re wearing a tinfoil hat right now, you’ve no doubt considered a likely implementation scenario where the flat fee will be based on a very high annual mileage and payable in a high-three-figure lump sum, while the privacy-eroding GPS-tracking device will be easy to use and the most affordable choice.

Insofar as this program deliberately encourages people to hold on to older, less fuel-efficient vehicles, the Obama administration will surely have an opinion on Oregon’s antics. The state’s famously liberal urban residents might also have a strong opinion about a program that seems targeted at electric and plug-in vehicles. One question perhaps not covered in the pilot program is this: If a young man lets a pair of valets put two hundred miles on his father’s vintage Ferrari, will running it in reverse on a pair of jackstands result in a tax refund?

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Survey Says: Detroit Can’t Shake The Drinking Habit – Blame The Enablers! Thu, 13 Dec 2012 19:19:32 +0000


Demand for fuel-efficient vehicles remains strong, and the fleet of newly bought cars is taking to the streets getting a better mileage on average than a year before. The cars sold by Hyundai/Kia are most miserly with their fuel, with Volkswagen close behind. Automobiles from Detroit on the other hand stay thirsty. This is the result of TrueCar’s TrueMPG survey.

Average MPG Average Car MPG Average Truck MPG
Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY
Hyundai/Kia 26.8 26.4 0.4 28.6 28.3 0.4 23.0 23.0 0.0
Volkswagen 26.7 26.1 0.6 28.0 27.3 0.7 22.1 21.8 0.3
Honda 25.9 24.2 1.8 29.7 28.4 1.3 22.5 21.1 1.4
Toyota 24.4 24.2 0.1 30.1 29.7 0.4 19.2 19.3 -0.1
Nissan 23.5 23.1 0.5 28.2 26.4 1.8 20.0 19.5 0.5
Industry 23.2 22.3 0.9 27.5 26.3 1.1 19.8 19.4 0.4
Ford 22.4 21.4 1.0 28.8 26.1 2.7 19.7 19.6 0.2
GM 21.1 20.4 0.7 25.3 24.9 0.4 18.9 18.5 0.4
Chrysler 19.9 19.5 0.5 23.7 22.4 1.3 18.3 18.2 0.0

The sales-weighted survey determines the average MPG by associating the number of actual cars sold with their EPA rating.

When we publish these numbers, howls of protests ensue, and we hear complaints that carmakers who sell lots of trucks get penalized. Well, that’s the point. Fuel efficient cars can only help make us independent from foreign oil and spare the atmosphere additional harm if they get bought.

As inconvenient as it may sound, automobiles sold by the Detroit 3 are doing – on average – a substandard job.

However, TrueCar also broke it out by segments, and if you like BIG TRUCKS, then you will find solace in the fact that Ford and GM sell gas guzzlers with some of the best sales averaged mileage, whereas Toyota’s and Nissan’s behemoths  suck bigtime.

Avrg Small Car MPG Avrg Midsize Car MPG Avrg Large Truck MPG
Manufacturer Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY Nov’12 Nov’11 YoY
Chrysler 31.3 25.1 6.2 23.9 23.9 0.0 15.8 15.7 0.1
Ford 34.0 32.2 1.8 29.5 26.6 2.9 17.3 17.4 -0.2
GM 29.8 31.3 -1.5 26.2 25.7 0.5 17.0 17.0 0.0
Honda 31.9 32.5 -0.6 28.5 25.8 2.7 17.2 16.9 0.3
Hyundai/Kia 30.9 30.6 0.3 27.8 27.5 0.3  N/A  N/A  N/A
Mazda 30.9 28.3 2.5 24.2 24.9 -0.7  N/A  N/A  N/A
Mitsubishi 25.5 25.6 -0.1 24.3 24.3 0.0  N/A  N/A  N/A
Nissan 32.3 31.3 0.9 28.0 25.0 3.0 14.3 14.2 0.0
Subaru 26.5 20.5 6.1 25.5 24.2 1.3  N/A  N/A  N/A
Suzuki  N/A  N/A N/A 25.0 25.1 -0.1  N/A  N/A  N/A
Toyota 34.5 35.1 -0.6 28.3 27.4 0.9 15.5 15.6 -0.1
Volkswagen 30.8 30.6 0.2 29.4 27.3 2.1  N/A  N/A  N/A
Industry 31.8 31.7 0.1 27.6 26.0 1.5 16.8 16.8 0.0

And speaking of trucks, Jesse Toprak, Senior Analyst at TrueCar, expects ” to see TrueMPG dip in December as more consumers snap up larger SUVs and trucks.”

Disclosure: While the author lived in the U.S.A., he drove a Ford Expedition, ostensibly to “pull the boat.” The 90 mph race boat gave him 1 mpg at WOT.

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Want To Save Gas? Don’t Buy American – Announcing The True Heroes And True Villains At The Pump Mon, 12 Mar 2012 17:47:34 +0000 Some automakers have cars that get a stupendous mileage, but they are priced or built so that nobody wants them. We won’t name names, draw your own conclusions. A much better metric than the mileage of a car is the mileage of all cars you sell. The combined mileage of all cars sold by a manufacturer or brand used to be a top secret document. Manufacturers with stellar averages sometimes leaked theirs. But what good are these statistics if manufacturers with mediocre averages hide their data? Thankfully, last year TrueCar started tracking the MPG averages of cars sold in the U.S. And it is coming to surprising results.

Not surprisingly, the most fuel efficient cars are sold by smart and MINI. Duh, all they have are small cars.

Once the offerings get a bit more diverse, Hyundai emerges as a clear winner with an average MPG of 27.8 in February 2012. Hyundai is closely followed by Volkswagen with 27.4 MPG. JLR can boast that it affords the luxury of absolutely atrocious mileage, a label Jaguar and Land Rover share with truck-heavy Ram.

With one narrow exception, Detroit cars are below average when it comes to combined mileage. A Volt doesn’t do anything to the environment if people don’t buy it. The only Detroit brand above average is Buick. The German and Chinese influenced brand is a tenth of a mile better than run-of-the-mill.

TrueCar TrueMPG By Brand, February 2011

Brand Feb-12 Feb-11 YoY
smart 36.2 36.2 0.0
MINI 30.3 30.0 0.3
Hyundai 27.8 26.1 1.7
Volkswagen 27.4 25.5 1.9
Kia 26.1 25.8 0.3
Scion 26.0 25.6 0.4
Honda 24.7 24.6 0.1
Mazda 24.6 24.3 0.3
Toyota 24.5 25.0 -0.5
Mitsubishi 24.5 25.1 -0.6
Subaru 23.5 23.2 0.3
Nissan 23.4 22.8 0.6
Suzuki 23.4 23.2 0.2
Buick 22.4 20.3 2.1
Industry 22.3 21.4 0.9
Audi 22.2 22.0 0.2
Chevrolet 21.7 21.3 0.4
Ford 21.3 17.3 4.0
Lexus 21.2 21.2 0.0
Acura 21.1 19.9 1.2
Saab 20.9 22.4 -1.5
Chrysler 20.9 19.5 1.4
Volvo 20.9 21.2 -0.3
BMW 20.5 20.2 0.3
Mercedes 20.5 19.1 1.4
Dodge 20.3 19.8 0.5
Lincoln 19.7 18.8 0.9
Infiniti 19.6 19.7 -0.1
Porsche 19.4 21.0 -1.6
GMC 18.9 18.9 0.0
Jeep 18.6 17.6 1.0
Cadillac 18.4 18.8 -0.4
Jaguar 18.0 18.0 0.0
Ram 15.6 15.6 0.0
Land Rover 15.0 14.0 1.0

The YoY column says what manufacturers actually do about mileage. It compares the combined MPG of cars sold in February 2012 with that of cars sold in February 2012.

The star of the MPG improvement category clearly is Ford. Within one year, Ford delivered 4 miles per gallon more across all Fords sold. If Ford keeps up this performance, it will soon be found in the hero category. The company not rescued by the government has the best improvement and the best overall MPG ranking of all Detroit makers.

Top ranking Hyundai and Volkswagen improved their MPG by 1.9 and 1.7 miles respectively. Buick surprisingly improved a below-average 20.3 MPG last year by a class-leading 2.1 miles. Ford and Buick protected Detroit’s virtue: The mileage may still be sub-par. But at least, something is being done to improve it.


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Capsule Review: Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D Mule Tue, 02 Aug 2011 15:35:17 +0000

The Sea-to-Sky highway in British Columbia, Canada, carves a winding route from the gorgeous – and occasionally riotous – city of Vancouver to the world-class ski resort of Whistler. Its looping curves were rebuilt to make it a high-speed corridor for tourists and athletes during the last Winter Olympics, and as a result, it’s probably one of the top five roads in this country. Mind you, it’s also a favourite hang-out for the local constabulary.

So here I am then, at the wheel of a priceless prototype, sitting on the wrong side of the car next to an emeritus journalist, on a blind on-ramp to one of the most highly-patrolled roads in Canada. What’s called for here is a little decorum, a careful merge, some light throttle application, a few gentle gear-changes and so on. Anything else would be at-worst dangerous and at-best unseemly.

By a curious co-incidence, “unseemly” is my middle name. So I floor it.

But first, a little background on the rare beast to which I have been (somewhat irresponsibly) handed the reins. Essentially a Mazda6 in guise, this prototype boasts all four of Mazda’s SKYACTIV technologies: chassis, suspension, transmission and twin-turbo diesel engine.

More on that mill later, but the important thing to note is that this is a true full-SKYACTIV vehicle. When the next-gen Mazda3 drops later this year, the mid-level trim will be sporting SKYACTIV transmissions and the new gas engine, but it will be a full year before the first vehicle – the CX-5 – arrives with a full complement of Mazda’s new tech. Additionally, it’s going to take even longer for North Americans to have access to a manual-transmission diesel mid-size sedan that doesn’t have a German-Mexican accent.

So this Mazda6 is something quite special. It’s also a bit of a hack-job.

Nagare styling doesn’t work range-wide for Mazda, but the ’6 was always quite a handsome car. Here though it’s been chopped apart and pop-riveted back together, and somebody’s painted its ears yellow. Obviously, these aren’t styling cues that have any shot at making it into production, but they’re worth mentioning to give an idea of how unique the car is. It also looks great, in a dystopian-future kinda way.

Dr. Frankenstein has been at work in the interior too. Exposed screws. Deactivated airbags. There appears to be an inner-tube wrapped around the steering column. The horn is a button marked “horn” and the turn signals don’t self-cancel.

It’s quite a lot for the mind to process: the last time I was in a car this duct-taped together, it was a Ford Escort GT I’d bought for a hundred-and-fifty bucks. That car should have sucked, but funnily enough, it had a Mazda BP power-plant, and what with the chopped coils and zero-interior treatment, it felt incredibly raw and interesting to drive.

Mazda’s probably going to be extremely annoyed I’m comparing their prototype to a hunk of early-90′s Ford flotsam, but it’s important for everyone to be on the same page here. This car boasts no new fancy touch-screens or intelligent voice-activated massaging seats. This is an engineering pin-up; this is an enthusiast-minded company showing us how they’re trying to keep building driver’s cars in an increasingly technology- and efficiency-obsessed market.

Back on the on-ramp, the SKYACTIV mule responds with a kick like a – er – mule. The first of the sequential turbos is a tiny hairdryer that you could spool with a sneeze. Peak torque of 310 lb/ft comes at a low 2000 rpm, but it was already cresting into the 200s at a little over half the revs.

But so what? Diesels have always been about low-range grunt: high-gear highway pulls sans downshifting make driving easy, but lack the fun-factor of a gas engine. Or rather, that’s usually the case.

Here though, the low-compression SKYACTIV-D pulls a neat trick: revs to match the shove. A 5200rpm ceiling would be laughable in a gasoline engine, but in a diesel it’s excellent. There’s no need to ping it off the rev-limiter, but the Mazda’s diesel is flexible and revs up surprisingly quickly, and that big secondary turbo doesn’t appear to lose steam until the very upper reaches.

That and a six-speed manual transmission make this car fun. Lots of fun. I forgot to look at the taped-in speedometer when we hit the bottom of the on-ramp, but we were clipping along very nicely.

Hitting the well-cambered curves of the Sea-to-Sky at speed also shows off the ’6s chassis and steering refinements. Rigidity and weight-loss are welcome but incremental; the real progress has been made with the way the steering feel is enhanced by a significantly quickened ratio and an aggressive amount of caster for a front-driver. It’s not quite Miata (sorry: MX-5) territory yet, but the DNA is there.

There was apparently a little Lost In Translation confusion when journos came back from driving the SKYACTIV-D mule. “I don’t need to drive anything else today!” can be interpreted more than one way, and it caused quite the consternation when overheard by Mazda’s Japanese engineers.

I’ll try to be more clear. This isn’t a real car you can buy yet, but depending on what the fuel figures look like, it’s going to be a great one. If they bring their SKYACTIV-D technology to the North American market, Mazda has a real opportunity to eat Volkswagen’s lunch.

SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Mule 1 SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Mule 5 SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Mule 3 SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Mule 2 SKYACTIV-D Mazda6 Mule 4 ]]> 43
Move Aside, Hybrid. Here Comes The ICE Sat, 09 Oct 2010 09:31:28 +0000

So far, if you wanted to save gas and if you didn’t want to suffer a coronary from range anxiety, you bought yourself a hybrid. The problem: They are expensive. You choose to pay Big Car instead of Big Oil. Don’t despair: Ye olde ICE still has a lot of fight in it.

Daihatsu plans to launch the e:S minivehicle next year in Japan, which can travel 30km on a single liter of gasoline. That’s about 70 mpg (non-EPA.) According to The Nikkei [sub], the car is comes with an idling stop system, and exhaust gas is recirculated to power the engine. The minivehicle is likely to sell for less than 1 million yen in Japan, or around $12,000.

Suzuki is likewise working on even more fuel efficient minivehicles, in response to “louder consumer calls for better fuel efficiency,” says President Osamu Suzuki.

These low powered cars with pint-sized engines will likely never appear on U.S. shores.

But subcompacts are turning out ever increasing mpg numbers. Nissan’s Micra gets 26 km per liter (around 60 mpg, non-EPA.) It’s cheap, and no wonder that it sold 22,000 units since launched in July, five times more than expected.

Mazda is working on a subcompact to be launched next year that promises a mileage comparable to hybrids.

With all the growth being in emerging markets where the price of a car plays a huge role, focusing on simple, low cost, fuel efficient offerings doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

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Inside Ecomotors’ Revolutionary High-Efficiency Engine Thu, 22 Jul 2010 16:19:59 +0000

Predicting the future is a risky business. Lincoln Steffens, muckraking journalist and admirer of the Soviet Union said, regarding the then young USSR, “I have been over into the future, and it works.” Steffens apparently wrote that before he actually visited the workers paradise in the early 1920s. A decade later he regretted that endorsement.

Music writer Jon Landau’s prediction was a bit more accurate. “Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theater, I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name was Bruce Springsteen.” Landau was soon to edge The Boss’ original manager, Mike Appel, out of the picture, took over management of Springsteen’s career and production of his music, and did everything in his power to make his prophecy a self-fulfilling one.

Earlier this week I believe that I saw the future of transportation and stationary power and its name is OPOC. That stands for “opposed piston opposed cylinder”, a new engine architecture being developed for production and licensing by EcoMotors, a Troy, Michigan startup.

Yes, there are lots of “revolutionary” engine designs, most of them hype, and those that aren’t just hype rarely reach working prototype stage, let alone production. The OPOC, though, comes with a pedigree and a management team that brings substantial and credible automotive experience.

OPOC is the brainchild of Prof. Peter Hofbauer, former head of powertrain development for Volkswagen and designer of VW’s first diesel engine. Some call him the father of the modern high speed diesel. Dr. Hofbauer is Chief Technology Officer at Ecomotors. CEO of Ecomotors is Don Runkle, longtime GM engineer and executive. Runkle held the positions of chief engineer of Chevrolet, chief engineer of powertrain and racing at the Buick Division, director of Advanced Vehicle Engineering, vice president of GM’s Advanced Engineering Staff and GM’s North American VP in charge of the Warren Tech Center. President and Chief Operating Officer is John Colleti, ex of Ford, where he was responsible for the hugely successful (and fairly profitable) SVT high performance program.

According to EcoMotors, their leadership team has more than 230 years of collective experience in the automotive and power generation industries, has been awarded over 150 patents, and has managed more than 30 powertrain programs and more than two dozen new vehicle launches. Between them the company’s leaders have won four engine of the year awards.

The engine startup made the news recently when Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla anted up $23.5 million for EcoMotors’ round B funding. Khosla had previously invested in the company and it operates as part of his Khosla Ventures group. EcoMotors plans on both building engines for non-automotive applications, to prove the engine’s competence, and license the architecture to automakers to develop their own engines based on the OPOC layout. The payoff is potentially huge. There are over 100 million internal combustion engines sold every year in the world. About half of those are cars and light trucks. Some are for heavy trucks and buses, while the remainders are used for everything from power generation to lawn equipment. That’s a $350 billion/year market in total, and EcoMotors is convinced that the OPOC is suitable for just about every ICE application.

Gates’ involvement got big headlines, but it’s Khosla’s backing of the project that gives it particular credibility. Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, is fond of backing what he projects will be disruptive technologies capable of entering the mainstream in a variety of developed and developing markets, with sustainable and profitable non-subsidized prices. He’s known as a major investor in alternative technology, with investments in cellulosic ethanol and batteries, so the fact that he has endorsed, with his money, an internal combustion engine says that there is yet life in the old bird. Of course the OPOC is a bird of a different feather.

EcoMotors says that though they expect another round of venture funding, they now have sufficient funds to fully develop and engineer the OPOC engine to ready-for-production status, and maybe into early production planning.

Earlier funding, about $50 came in the form of defense contracts with DARPA. Two engines were successfully developed but the US government stopped funding for the program. Another $18 million was committed by Zhongding Holding Group and Global Optima of China to fund development of engines for their own production.

It’s easier to understand how the OPOC concept works from a model or animation than with a description. In basic form it’s a horizontally opposed two cylinder engine. Each opposing cylinder has two pistons, opposing pistons that are connected to the same crankshaft but out of phase so that they move in opposite directions to each other, compressing the air between them and allowing it to expand as the crankshaft spins. So there are two cylinders, each with two opposing pistons. All the reciprocating forces cancel each other out, there is no force on the crankcase, all the force is direct to the crankshaft and the stresses on the crankshaft are simple. So far there have been some piston failures, and casting problems but they haven’t broken a crank yet.

By going with a two stroke design, they eliminate complicated valves and associated machinery, as well as the need for a separate and expensive cylinder head. A comparably powered OPOC engine has 1/6 the number of parts as a conventional V8. The OPOC achieves close to 4 stroke levels of gas scavenging by lots of fluid dynamics modeling, careful port design, and the electrically controlled turbocharger. It’s a standard Borg Warner turbo with an electric motor connected to the turbine shafts. From idle, it gets the turbo to speed, reducing turbo lag. More importantly it allows control of back pressure, improving gas exchange. Once the turbo is up to speed, the motor acts as a generator, and that current is supplied to the electrical system.

The folks at EcoMotors are very big on two cycle engines. As Runkle said, if you could choose, why build a complicated 4 stroke engine that wastes half the strokes? The OPOC has power on every down stroke. The drawback to a two-cycle engine, of course is that they are dirty. The lack of precision valves and the ability of a 4 stroke to pump air means that two cycle engines don’t have as complete a burn nor do they scavenge the exhaust gases well. A typical two stroke leaves a lot of exhaust gas in the cylinder as well as spewing some unburned fuel out the exhaust. EcoMotors says that their design has all of the advantages of a two-stroke engine with none of the drawbacks, achieving 90% gas scavenging, close to a four-stroke’s 95% and much better than the best two-strokes.

EcoMotors is doing the engineering and design on the engine, whose 6th generation version is currently being developed. The actual assembly and testing is being done at Roush Industries, with Roush contributing some technical expertise. When I asked EcoMotors if I could have a tour of their engine lab, they graciously arranged interviews with Don Runkle and Jonathan Hurden, EcoMotors Chief Engineer, at the Roush complex in Livonia.

I first met with Hurden, who showed me the latest engine that’s being assembled, and told me what was protected proprietary information and thus out of camera range. He described the engine, answered my questions and then took me into the test cell where the latest completed version of the OPOC engine was running on a dyno. After that, I sat down for a detailed interview with Don Runkle, where he gave me a condensed version of the pitch they give to potential customers and investors, as well as some answers to my questions.

Like his bosses, Hurden has an impressive resume, having managed powertrain development for the Rover Group, been chief engineer at BMW Group managing powertrains for Land Rover and Mini, and been managing director at Mahle Powertrain (previously Cosworth Technology).

While I was there, the castings for the newest version engine were arriving via UPS. The internals of the latest 6th gen motor are already running on the dyno in the 5th gen crankcase & block. The newer engine will have wet cylinder liners instead of the current dry sleeves.

The engine is surprisingly compact, though it looks a bit wide. Hurden says that width is deceptive. The M100 engine on the stand is a 300HP direct injected two-stroke diesel engine. It has a displacement of 2.5 liters, cylinder bores of 100mm (with very short strokes), and has dimensions of (LxWxH): 22.8 x 41.3 x 18.5 – note the short length and low height. With aluminum construction, it weighs only 300 lbs.  Compare that to the 300HP engines from Cummins and Navistar that respectively weigh 1,100 and 900 lbs. and have dimensions that dwarf the OPOC. Runkle says that production OPOC engines will easily weigh less than half what similarly powered diesel and gasoline engines weigh. Though the current prototypes run on diesel fuel, the OPOC engine can run on a variety of fuels including gases and alcohols as well as gasoline.

The power and torque ratings are dyno tested with standard ancillaries.

Hurden said that combustion development was their current focus. Towards that end, a joint project with the University of Michigan  College of Engineering has developed an optical version of the OPOC engine that allows high speed photography of the combustion chamber, combustion plume and exhaust gases. Hurden said that the current prototype is a “robust workhorse”, and that while he “intends to break these engines”, so far they haven’t broken a crank or thrown a rod, though he did show me a badly detonated piston. Every prototype including the first has run at least as well as predictions and so far the measured results match well with the anticipated figures. The main focus is meeting emissions but before that comes durability. The Roush technician building the engine is an alumnus of the Roush NASCAR team and he said that their motto was “break it on the dyno so it doesn’t break in use.” Right now it seems to be durable and some of the emissions targets have been met. The overall goal is the 2010 Tier 2 Bin 5 Heavy Duty Truck standard. While it can meet the standards at specific RPM levels, they are working on meeting the standards across the power band. The RPM range is currently 700-3800. Though without valves and with a short strokes this could be a high revving engine, the ultimate goal is fuel efficiency and high RPM means high piston speed and that’s the major source of friction in an engine. Lower friction = better efficiency so the redline is currently 3800 RPM, in line with other truck diesels.

Hurden expects that they will meet the emissions targets later this year. He said that with the exception of the design of the combustion chamber, no advanced technologies or costly materials were needed for development, just the normal engine development processes used, let’s say for the next LSx at GM. He alluded to problems with castings, an age old one in the auto industry. The one area where he said that EcoMotors was breaking new ground was in combustion chamber design. That the only part of the engine that they asked me not to photograph, the complex combustion chamber carved into the piston head.

All I can say is that it’s the coolest looking piston head I’ve ever seen. If it was back in the Rocket 88 and Cobra Jet days, the shape carved into the head would have inspired ad men to new heights in pursuit of an appropriate brand name.

Since they’ve registered OPOC as a trademark, I asked if they had any branding plans a la HEMI and they found the idea of an OPOC logo on the fender of a car somewhat humorous.

They made no claims for durability, but the fact that there is no complicated valve train to break, nor a cylinder head to warp or crack (the ports are circumferential to the cylinders), shows potential for good durability. More important to durability are the engine’s inherent balance, simple loading on the crankshaft and no forces on the crankcase. Loading on the crank is such that only two main bearings will suffice. That further lowers friction.

In current development, the M100 OPOC engine tuned to meet current North American emissions standards, on the dyno generates 240 HP and 487 foot-pounds of torque, so they aren’t too far away from meeting both power and emissions goals.

Hurden then took me through a maze of rooms ending up at the test cell where the gen 5.5 engine was spinning away merrily. After putting in some ear plugs we went into the dyno chamber so I could get some video for the web site. I can say without a doubt that the OPOC is the smoothest running engine I’ve ever seen run. I was tempted to ask about doing the Rolls-Royce balance a coin on top of a running engine trick, but I also have little doubt that it would have stood still. In a video of the engine, they placed a beaker of water on the running engine and there was hardly a ripple in the surface.

The OPOC may be the best balanced combustion engine ever built. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Other than the noise, the only way to tell it’s running is to look at the belt drive and pulleys.

The engine, impressive as it is, is still a development prototype. When I entered the test cell, in addition to the electrically controlled turbo mounted between the cylinders, on the floor, plumbed into the maze of exhaust pipes, was what looked like an Eaton supercharger running off an electric motor. When I asked about the blower, Hurden asked me not to photograph it since it won’t be part of the final engine. While they are fine tuning the combustion process, they need a surplus of intake air under pressure, which the Eaton blower supplies reliably. Once they get the combustion chamber shape finalized, the onboard turbo will be optimized to provide all the compressed air the engine needs.

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The Problem With Start-Stop Systems Mon, 22 Feb 2010 23:52:16 +0000

For an industry under ever-increasing pressure from government emissions standards, start-stop technology (which shuts off engines under idling conditions) seems like an easy route to improved fuel efficiency. Cheaper and less complicated than a true hybrid system, a number of automakers from BMW to Kia are proliferating start-stop technology across their product lines without hybrid-like price premium. Since this technology represents a relatively easy, incremental efficiency upgrade, we’ve wondered why it hasn’t been made available stateside, where hybrids are making up a growing proportion of sales. Detroit’s executives seem to think it’s a good idea, and Mazda has even gone so far as to complain that EPA test results refusing to show the Japanese test-cycle’s 7-9 percent improvement is the main factor preventing it from bringing more stop-start equipped vehicles to the US. But there’s another issue preventing stop-start from becoming standard issue industry-wide, and it’s actually remarkably obvious.

In its latest print edition, German car mag Auto Motor und Sport performed a 200km real-world winter efficiency test on six German-market, entry-level diesel station wagons (A4, Passat, Mondeo, Insignia, C-class, 3-series), and it made an interesting discovery. Though the VW, Audi and BMW were equipped were equipped with stop-start systems, the near-freezing temperatures and freeway/country road course meant that the Audi and VW systems only rarely activated (nur in wenigen Einzelfällen), and the BMW didn’t do the stop-start thing even once. Although a more urban course might have seen the system activate a bit more often, Auto Motor und Sport rightly concludes that temperature plays an important role in the efficacy of stop-start systems. After all, engines run far less efficiently when cold, so if deactivating the engine in near-freezing conditions can cause it to dip out of its optimum operating temperature, stop-start could be a a recipe for worse efficiency.

Of course, the start-stop systems have smarter computers than that, which is why the systems rarely activated in AM und S’s test. And ironically, the three vehicles equipped with the system actually logged the top CO2 emission results in the test despite the recalcitrance of their technological advantages. Still, just as cold-weather performance remains a huge question mark in the development of electric vehicles, living in a cold climate could seriously limit the advantages of this seemingly inevitable efficiency-boosting gizmo.

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Is A Gas Tax Hike Coming? Mon, 07 Dec 2009 20:18:26 +0000 Just stop talking about pay-per-mile! (

Ray LaHood seems to think so. He tells the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The problem we have is, Congress wants to pass a very robust transportation bill in the neighborhood of $400 billion or $500 billion, and we know the highway trust fund is just deficient in its ability to fund those kinds of projects. The highway trust fund was substantial at one time but now with people driving less, and driving more fuel-efficient cars, it has become deficient. To index the federal fuel tax, that’s something Congress is going to have to decide. As we get into the reauthorization bill, the debate will be how we fund all the things we want to do. You can raise a lot of money with tolling. Another means of funding can be the infrastructural bank. You can sell bonds and set aside money for big projects, multibillion-dollar projects. Another way is (charging a fee to motorists for) vehicle miles traveled. The idea of indexing the taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something I believe Congress will debate. When the gas tax was raised in 1992 or 1993, in the Clinton administration, there was a big debate whether it should be indexed. At that time, they thought there’d be a sufficient amount of money collected. Now we know that isn’t the case. That is one way to keep up with the decline in driving, and more fuel-efficient cars.

LaHood stopped short of explicitly endorsing a gas tax hike, but he said it’s an issue that congress will have to take the lead on. And if it comes to a debate, let’s hope that indexing the gas tax for annual increases wins out. After all, LaHood has made it clear that he favors a pay-per-mile scheme which would require placing GPS tracking devices in all vehicles. Moreover, steady increases in the gas tax would accelerate consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, actually helping automakers reduce their fleet average fuel economy numbers in a more organic fashion that CAFE mandates. The idea of indexing fuel taxes is said to be gaining support among transport policy analysts. In light of the threat posed by pay-per-mile, we’ll call that a good thing.

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