Boosted Engines Are Bigger Than Ever: Study

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

If you’re the type of automotive enthusiast who covets cylinder volume above all else, this probably hasn’t been your decade. However, if you’re of the boosted breed, things couldn’t be better. Forced induction engines are bigger than ever, not in size (again, sorry displacement fans) but in factory application.

The numbers of turbocharged vehicles sold in the U.S. rose for a sixth consecutive year in 2017, now accounting for 27.6 percent of new cars and light truck models built through March 2017. For the sake of reference, the 2011 model year only saw 10.7 percent, while previous years loitered between 4.5 and 6.6 percent annually. This makes turbocharging less of a trend and more of a revolution.

Due to the tightening noose of emission regulation, automakers are tapping whatever technologies they have at their disposal to improve fuel economy without sacrificing peak power. This is further illustrated in the study, conducted by Wards Auto, by the downturn of supercharging. While emissions control makes turbocharging the obvious choice in most instances, mild-hybridization and even twincharging has moved into the supercharger’s territory.

Superchargers remain a niche factory application, typically accounting for 0.5 to 0.1 percent of the total market in any given year, whereas super/turbocharged compound forced induction systems achieved a 0.2 percent stake in 2016 before settling at 0.1 percent for the first half of 2017.

With diesels on the decline, one would expect to see a more modest increase in turbocharged applications as gas-burning cars pick up the flickering torch. After all, turbodiesels held a 4.2 percent total market share in the 2006 model year, 91 percent of which were light trucks. That same year saw only 1.6 percent of gas-burning passenger vehicles equipped with any kind of forced induction.

For 2017, turbodiesels were installed in just 2.7 percent of new vehicles while turbocharged gasoline engines went into the remaining 24.9 percent.

Dan Nicholson, General Motors’ vice president of global propulsion systems, outlined the company’s turbo-focused production strategy in June. “Turbocharging is really an important technology,” Nicholson said. “It’s enabling smaller, really smaller engines, without sacrificing peak power or peak torque.”

Like most car companies, GM is throwing the setup into just about everything to improve economy. Currently, all but the bare-bones Buick Regal 1SV is furnished with a 2.0-liter turbo, and that mill stands to become standard kit for 2018. Similarly, the Chevrolet Traverse’s 3.6-liter V6 will have to make room for the boosted 2.0 next year as the full-size crossover begins using both.

The automaker’s re-introduction of a diesel in the Chevy Cruze also helped bolster turbodiesel volume in Volkswagen’s noticeable absence.

There are, however, other fuel-sipping engineering options for use within the industry. Wards noted gasoline direct-injection engines were installed in 50.5 percent of all 2017-model light vehicles — up from the 2016 benchmark of 47.1 percent. Like turbocharging, it’s a significant increase in popularity, having risen from just 3.7 percent in 2008.

Despite being touted as the future and having billions wrapped up in research and development, electrification remains the underdog. EVs accounted for only 0.5 percent of the models surveyed for 2017 — a 0.1 increase over last year. The United States currently ranks second, behind China, with more than 570,000 total plug-in electric cars sold through December 2016.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Nvinen Nvinen on Aug 08, 2017

    My biggest problem with turbo engines is soggy throttle response and the difficulty of predicting how much power will be available when you hit the pedal. I've yet to drive a turbo car with throttle response to match supercharged or naturally aspirated engines. My wife has an Escape with the 2l Ecoboost and it's a decent engine which is reasonably refined and has quite decent power but the lag inconsistency really bothers me. I had a V6 Accord before and while the Ecoboost has more low rev torque, at least with the Accord I knew if I pressed the accelerator I would get an instant response. With the Ecoboost, it depends on whether the turbo is spooled which depends on how much throttle you've been using in the last few seconds. So you have to constantly keep track of how you've been driving so as to have some idea of whether you have the power for a quick overtake if necessary. That's annoying and possibly dangerous if you pull out into a gap to overtake, hit the pedal and nothing much happens (which has happened to me more than once). Never an issue with my other cars (the 3.5l V6 N/A Accord and my 5l supercharged Ford). And the 2l turbo Escape gets pretty similar fuel economy to my old V6 Accord on the same routes. It weighs about the same; it is AWD compare to FWD and probably is less aerodynamic but I still thought it would probably have a more clear fuel economy advantage given that it has barely half the engine capacity and less peak power (~250hp compared to ~280hp).

    • See 3 previous
    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Aug 10, 2017

      @NormSV650 I suspect that if Honda tunes the auto to drop a gear whenever brisk throttle input is sensed, that'll be a good start. With the J35, you get the burst down low, then VTEC kicks-in, yo! If they've got that dialed-in right, it'll feel like a classic Accord 4 with a ton of low-end, then hopefully the VTEC on the 2.0 will take care of the upper revs. It's just that the whole thing seems needlessly complex! Honda needs to re-learn the KISS principle, which was their advertising slogan two decades ago!

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Aug 09, 2017

    I drove all of the full-sized trucks prior to buying a 2.7 Ecoboost F150. Honestly the 5.3 powered Chevy felt like it had more turbo lag than the Ford motor in spite of having no turbos. I wasn't willing to spend what it took to get one with the bigger motor and my friends all get low teens with it anyway. Same for the Hemi RAM. I am in the low 20s over 30000 miles with a few thousand of those pulling a 5000 pound travel trailer. It pulls that without issue though mileage drops to the 12-15 range. Honestly the fuel economy is a was simply the best driving truck engine for what I was looking at.

  • SCE to AUX JFK used to pronounce Laos as "lay-oss", so I want to call this car "tay-oss". But I'm told by a true VW lover that it's pronounced "ta-owse", rhyming with "house". Maybe VW should rethink a few of their product names.
  • Jalop1991 No Android Auto/Apple Carplay, no car. It's that simple. I always have my phone with me, and it's dirt simple to plug it in and have Spotify continue where it left off. And the maps I want--Waze--are right there.
  • Eric As I would not buy a GM or any other EV the question is moot. As to Apple or Android play, I don't care if the car uses them. I don't use those apps anyway.
  • SCE to AUX I'd want Android Auto.
  • FreedMike They're highly important to me, particularly for navigation.