A tricky balancing act

Alfa Romeo has to juggle pressures from two directions: it needs to cut emissions while meeting performance demands from consumers. Downsized, turbocharged combustion engines will help the premium marque in this task, but the long-term strategy is more electrification

Ever stricter targets for CO2 and NOx have led engineers to develop and integrate more complex technologies to reduce harmful emissions from the tailpipe. But when the vehicles you produce aren’t necessarily solely used as a transport tool, this process becomes a difficult balance. 

With benchmark compact cars, the emphasis is on efficiency and practicality. The VW Golf and Ford Focus may use an abundance of technologies, ranging from downsized turbocharged gasoline engines to complex aftertreatment systems to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

 But for engineers at Alfa Romeo developing vehicles such as the C-segment Giulietta, customer demands are, perhaps, more challenging. Maurizio Consalvo (pictured), Alfa Romeo’s product planning director, says: “In terms of performance, Alfa Romeo means handling, control, agility and interaction – it’s the link between the ‘Alfista’ and the vehicle. We aren’t interested in having the latest technological feature if it isn’t related to the excitement of our vehicles.”  

But the emissions challenge is the most important that Consalvo faces. “We have to start by looking at the energy demands on the vehicle, and at more efficient technologies for conventional engines. We must consider the next frontier, too: electrification,” he says.

Alfa’s fleet of vehicles is small, with only the Giulietta, B-segment Mito and
4C sports car. 

The Mito benefits from Fiat Group’s Twinair two-cylinder, turbocharged gasoline engine, which pushes emissions down to 98g/km. The 4C uses a 1,742cc, turbocharged, four-cylinder gasoline unit that emits only 157g/km. But efficiency still needs to be improved, and that could mean more downsized engines and alternative fuels.

“The general trend in the industry is towards downsized turbo engines replacing naturally aspirated units. Today the Twinair sells well, and Fiat has
already launched the same turbo unit in CNG form, which has been well received,” says Consalvo. 

Unlike competitors such as Ford, which has used its three-cylinder boosted gasoline engine in vehicles as large as the D-segment Mondeo, Alfa Romeo is unlikely to use smaller displacement units in larger vehicles.

“Downsizing is possible when the balance between the weight of the car and performance provided by the engine is right. It isn’t easy to manage a larger car combined with an extremely downsized turbo engine,” says Consalvo.

tags: Fiat Mazda Downsizing Emissions Powertrain