SAE World Congress
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Detroit — Automakers are grappling with a $52 billion question: how to boost fleetwide fuel efficiency 40 percent by 2016.
The government has set a fleetwide fuel efficiency requirement of 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016 — and increasing requirements are sure to follow in subsequent years. At the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress meeting here, automakers Tuesday debated how best to meet the mandate, which will cost nearly $1,000 per vehicle, or $52 billion across the industry.
In exchange, the new technology will save motorists an estimated $143 billion in fuel costs, and 1.8 billion gallons of fuel.
Hybrids and fully electric vehicles will play their role in meeting the requirements, the automakers said.
By 2013, automakers will have dozens of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles and fully electric vehicles, said Jason Forcier, a vice president at battery maker A123 Systems Inc.
Battery pack costs should fall from $750 per kilowatt hour today to under $500 by 2013 and by 2016 around $350. Half of the cost reductions will come from big volume increases and half through innovations.
“That’s $6,000 to $7,000 per battery pack” in 2016. He said the average payback of an electric vehicle could be less than three years in most markets.
The market for lithium ion batteries will go from basically zero last year to between $25 billion and $75 billion by 2020, he predicted.
But much of the work will be on improving internal combustion engines, which Chris De Boer, a vice president at Transonic Combustion Inc., estimated could still account for 95 percent of all vehicles by 2030.
Engines will be downsized, have more turbocharging and get a lot more complex to wring out efficiency gains for drivers who still want big, powerful vehicles, the experts say. Many will introduce “start-stop” systems that boost efficiency by shutting down and restarting the internal combustion engine to reduce idling time.
In the 1970s, automakers met clean air requirements largely by developing catalytic converters and using unleaded fuel.
“The challenge we have now is much greater,” said J. Gary Smyth, director of General Motors Co.’s Powertrain Systems Research laboratory. “The next five to 10 years is going to be absolutely critical.”
Ford Motor Co. is studying other engine technologies, including cooled EGR — a diesel engine technology — while Chrysler Group LLC is considering bringing its Fiat-built, natural gas powered or diesel vehicles to the U.S. market.
Ford announced Tuesday that its fuel-efficient EcoBoost engine will be offered on its all-new Ford Explorer, which will be unveiled later this year.
Barb Samardzich, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering, said the company will still make big engines.
“There’s also a performance customer that has a lot of ownership in a V-8 engine in a product like a Mustang,” she said. “I think it will be quite a while before we see V-8s being displaced entirely in a product like that.”
Cooled EGR — exhaust gas cooled in a heat exchanger then pumped back into the cylinders — could boost power and deliver as much as a 5 percent gain in fuel economy.
Paolo Ferrero, senior vice president of Chrysler Powertrain, said his company also is considering bringing new technologies to the market.
“Legislation would help (bring) diesels” and compressed natural gas vehicles that Fiat SpA produces in Europe. “There is a long way to go but we think we are on the right track.”
Hyundai Motor Corp.’s powertrain director, John Juriga, said the Korean automaker will introduce additional hybrids in coming years. It unveiled its first Hyundai Sonata hybrid at the recent New York Auto Show.
Nissan is considering bringing a diesel passenger vehicle to the U.S. market, “but right now we don’t have a concrete plan,” said Minoru Shinohara, a Nissan senior vice president.
“Ultimately, the customer is king,” said GM’s Smyth, adding that automakers can’t forget performance as they strive for efficiency. “What we are developing for the Cruze and what we are developing for the Camaro may be very different.”
GM needs to deliver “guiltless pleasure,” he said.
“How do you make vehicles green, but still give people the performance they’re looking for?”