Using stored excess heat to quickly warm engine lubricants is one way to make the internal combustion engine much more efficient, say carmakers.
The internal-combustion engine will remain the main power source for cars and trucks until at least 2050, according to a study in the United States.
The country’s National Petroleum Council has told the US Energy Department that high costs and technology hurdles will slow the development of substitute forms of power such as batteries and hydrogen fuel cells
Carmakers say warming engine lubricants and improving transmissions will cut friction, and turbocharging and direct-injection will boost power in small capacity engines.
Engineers from five major carmakers laid out strategies at a conference in the United States to cut fuel economy and emissions.
They say they can double the amount of power per litre of fuel with technologies already in development.
“The next five to 10 years will set this industry up to go in the right direction or the wrong direction for the next 40 or 50 years,” said Gary Smyth, executive director of global research and development for General Motors.
The added efficiencies coming to the automobile include:
• Electrification: Plug-in electric vehicles are likely to remain a niche market for some time, but more hybrid technology to store wasted energy will be introduced.
• Thermal management: Liquid cooling of exhaust gasses will protect turbochargers from overheating.
• Downsizing: Development is underway of smaller four-, three-, and even two-cylinder engines that have power outputs similar to previous-generation four-cylinder powerplants.
• Turbocharging: The advantage of turbocharging is to keep performance levels near what customers expect as engines get smaller.
• Alternative fuels: Diesel powertrains will be used in more vehicles and ethanol and compressed natural gas will be used more widely.
• Drivetrain improvements: New transmissions and axle ratios will improve the torque delivered to the wheels from smaller engines.
• Better manufacturing: Carmakers say the best way to keep down the price of the technology boom will be through more efficient manufacturing.
As the quality gap between the best and worst vehicles keeps narrowing, analysts at the conference said consumers are more often basing their purchase decisions on harder-to-measure factors such as customer service, marketing effectiveness and the user-friendliness of in-car connectivity features.
“How you treat a customer is really important,” said David Champion, senior director of automotive testing for US magazine Consumer Reports. “As long as you have some level of reliability, (a lower score in dependability tests) will be overlooked if you treat them right.”