Challenges on the horizon

External forces are pushing engineers to develop ever more technologies to increase efficiency within the combustion engine

Even in an industry as entrenched as the automotive sector, changes happen whether or not they are desired. Engineering developments and technological innovations created by some of the industry’s bright sparks play an important role in helping to shape what the modern vehicle is like.

But as understanding of the internal combustion engine grows, along with concern about the gases it releases into the atmosphere, external forces are also having a considerable impact on the direction taken by OEMs when investing for the future.

“The automotive world is changing more quickly than ever experienced in its history,” said Dr Günter Fraidl, senior vice-president for passenger car powertrain systems at AVL. “CO2 emissions are a major driver for this change, and it is not specific to one region – not only Japan, or Europe or the US. We have to come down to values significantly below 100g/km by the year 2020, and much lower afterwards.

“That means, if you’re looking at current fleets, they are significantly above the value that has to be obtained in a time not long from now.”

The picture Fraidl paints is made that much bleaker by other factors. Customer buying trends are shifting from traditional cars to less fuel-efficient SUVs that, on average, emit 20% more CO2.

In addition, a switch in test procedures from the outgoing New European Driving Cycle to the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedures will mean that vehicles will be scrutinised more closely than ever before.

Fraidl believes that the challenge for OEMs is made that much greater by the fall-out from Volkswagen’s emissions scandal last year.

“Dieselgate is hitting the whole automotive industry – not only VW – and there are some irrational discussions, with people even talking about a ban on diesel cars in Paris and India,” he said.

“But Dieselgate and its consequences do imply a question mark on the diesel share of the market we will see in the future. Most likely we will have a reduced diesel share and as a consequence we will have to expect a significant share of electrification.”

Mixture of options

If such a prediction is true, the position of the internal combustion engine as a relevant feature for the vehicle of the future could be considered as precarious but, while there is a lot of work to do, he expects the gasoline engine to remain important.

“There is no doubt that we have to put a lot of our efforts into the internal combustion engine to improve efficiency,” he said. “But we have not only to look on the combustion engine, we have also to look on the transmission, and on various kinds of hybridisation, to improve fuel efficiency. To find the right balance between these measures is really the key for affordable, cost-optimised fuel economy systems.”

tags: May 2016 AVL Powertrain