Editor's comment

“It’s reassuring that the passion for performance is still present, and that the technologies reducing emissions are helping to keep engineers passionate, too”

The move to ever decreasing emissions is a trend with an unarguable logic. But there does seem to be a modicum of resistance to its effect on a vehicle’s performance.

Being at the pinnacle for outright speed, acceleration and dynamic handling is a target that engineers still want to aim for, and shows that we still want to push the boundaries of what is possible.

So while there are a huge number of development programmes bringing the most efficient vehicles to market, there appear to be a fair number that are better mixing the drive for lower emissions with passion. And that’s got to be a good thing.
Passion is what helps the industry to innovate. If the only target is to drive ourselves closer to 0g/km CO2 from a vehicle's tailpipe, then that passion will disappear, or at least be stifled.

And while there are ludicrous programmes that define being the fastest as needing 16 cylinders, huge displacements and any number of turbochargers, theirs isn’t the only way.

There is still a place for smaller series production vehicles that use naturally aspirated gasoline engines in a V-formation, but mix them with other technologies to bring a smile to the driver’s face when they bury the throttle.

Port- and direct-injection, as well as cylinder deactivation, means that you can increase thermal efficiency across the engine map, so when you’re driving across town you aren’t using excessive amounts of fuel, but when conditions allow you can still enjoy a vehicle’s performance. And it’s a sign that engineers are starting to find the middle ground between conflicting targets. Perhaps the surest sign that this is happening is the number of high-performance projects that are now using electrification to bring both ever higher top speeds and faster acceleration times, with lower carbon emissions.

When the Toyota Prius was launched in the 1990s, it was maligned, for numerous reasons. But the hybrid technology that has evolved from that vehicle is now being used to make rear wheels spin and smoke.

Of course, the combustion engine is no longer a four-cylinder unit. But mating a V6 gasoline engine with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack has allowed engineers to achieve targets that have been dreamt up by a legislative body and also from within the company.

And as electrification technologies mature, it won’t only be full hybrid systems that will be used. I’ve spoken to several engineers recently who think that 48V architectures will have a huge impact on the industry.

Turbocharging has been used in numerous engines to boost performance, but there is still the criticism of lag at lower speeds making the engines less enjoyable to use, and an electric booster that is based on a 48V system could eradicate this drawback.

It was, perhaps, two years ago that I drove a research vehicle that housed the technology in a diesel engine. When it was put in a straight drag race against a twin-charged V8 gasoline-engined car, the electric booster helped the vehicle to
keep pace.

That technology is now going to be used in series production in a high-performance SUV, but will soon find its way into any number of vehicles.
I’m not naïve enough to think that engineers can ignore efficiency targets. But it’s reassuring to know that the passion for performance is still present in the industry, and that the technologies that are helping to reduce emissions are helping to keep engineers passionate, too.

tags: Powertrain