Fuel economies of scale

Low carbon vehicles are increasingly going to market, with much of the innovation led by UK engineers. Justin Cunningham reports from the Low Carbon Vehicles Event.

Fuel economies of scale Low carbon vehicles are increasingly going to market, with much of the innovation led by UK engineers. Justin Cunningham reports from the Low Carbon Vehicles Event.

It's an exciting time for the automotive industry. Many of the global OEMs are experiencing periods of rapid development and are continually rolling out new technology in an effort to reduce the tailpipe carbon emissions of their vehicles.

The industry has come under immense regulatory pressure in recent years and is currently working toward an average of 80g/km of CO2 produced across a given OEM fleet of vehicles by 2020. This is couple with a demand by customers for more fuel efficient cars as the price at the pump continues to escalate.

At the recent Low Carbon Vehicles Event, it was clear that most of the OEMs are improving aerodynamics, lowering rolling resistance and using lighter materials. However, the most significant improvements are going to come from powertrain technologies. Most of the OEMs are working on three main areas of technology – internal combustion, hybrids, and electric powertrains – but there is far from a unified consensus about the best way to proceed.

Ford has committed much of its commercial effort to developing more efficient internal combustion engines. This, it says, will deliver low carbon vehicles to the masses – millions of customers – which will result in a greater reduction of emissions compared with the roll out of thousands of hybrids or hundreds of electric vehicles.

"You can have any colour, as long as it is green," says Graham Hoare, executive director of powertrain engineering at Ford, deliberately misquoting the famous words of Henry Ford. "At its heart, Ford is a volume manufacturer and we believe that only by offering high volume affordable solutions to millions of customers are we going to make a difference."

Its ECOnetic range of vehicle technologies don't rely on different fuels, batteries or 'bolt on' hybrid motors to improve efficiency. Instead the refinement of the internal combustion engine, improved aerodynamics, lower rolling resistance, stop start technology, and an overdrive gear (effectively allowing a vehicle to cruise at sustained speed with reduced engine rpm) have yielded very impressive results.

"The new diesel Focus will achieve 89g/km of CO2 - that's 83mpg, 3.4l per 100km - and the Fiesta 87g/km," says Hoare. "That effectively puts those products right into the heartland of all the hybrids. So you can get hybrid level function with conventional technology that is affordable and available to the masses."

The company has recently announced that it wants to do the same with its petrol engines. It has developed a small direct-injected, turbocharged 1.0litre 3-cylinder engine which Hoare hints will in the near future take the petrol engine in to the sub-100g/km of CO2 category.

The engine developed at Ford's Dunton Technical Centre in the UK, uses a compact turbocharger that is capable of reaching nearly 250,000rpm, which results in virtually no lag. The engine also features an exhaust manifold cast into the cylinder head, which lowers the temperature of the exhaust gases and in turn enables the engine to run with the optimum fuel to air ratio across a wider rev band. The engine's bearings are also replaced with lower-resistance versions.

"Those changes will result in half of our vehicles by the end of 2012 being equipped with those technology features, and by the end of 2013 two-thirds of our vehicles sold in Europe will have those features," says Hoare. "That is a major step forward."

Ford is, however, continuing to develop both hybrid and electric vehicle technology and do plan to begin to roll it out toward the end of the decade when the market is more developed. However, smaller niche markets will serve as an important area to gain experience, and it plans to roll out a small electric commercial vehicle – the Transit Connect – next year, as well as gradually introducing various other plug-in and hybrid versions of its C-Max.

"The important thing is we must make these vehicles affordable," says Hoare. "We have a high volume opportunity here because we can use common platforms with the different powertrain technologies. That just about works for us at the moment, but as we go to the middle of the decade we think it will start to make a far more viable business case."

While Ford is opting to use a common platform on its hybrid and electric vehicle developments, Nissan has opted to develop a unique platform for its all-electric Nissan Leaf so it could package the batteries and other components of the electric vehicle perfectly. But it also wanted to give a clear message to the user that it is an all-electric vehicle, not a hybrid or electric variant of an existing internal combustion model.

"Clearly going forward we cannot sustain unique platforms," says Jerry Hardcastle, vice-president of vehicle design and development at Nissan. "The huge investment required for a platform means you need to use it for as many vehicles and as many powertrains as you can. As you watch Nissan models be introduced and developed in the future you will see platforms which can take diesel and gasoline engines as well as hybrids and electric versions. But that is for the future and not for today."

Just like Ford, Nissan is doing much of its innovation and design engineering in the UK. "We do the design from the sketching to the model making of the cars, in the UK," says Hardcastle. "You can already buy this car in the UK where it has been imported from our Oppama plant in Japan. But from 2013 we will start production of the Nissan Leaf in UK, including the batteries as well."

Jaguar Land Rover also has its own take on the future of low carbon motor and again agrees that the UK is a great place to do it, having had a number of successful innovations to talk about. Among them is the Range-E, a plug-in hybrid Range Rover capable of 89g/km of CO2 and almost 700miles with the help of the 3.0 litre V6 diesel engine.

The Range-E will form the basis of the next-generation of Range Rover, due out in 2013, and will be the first car from Land Rover to go hybrid. One of the clever things about it is that the electric motor is housed within the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

But all of these developments are overshadowed by the C-X75 which is brimming with technology, from lightweight composites and aluminium, range extended battery technology, and plug-in diesel parallel hybrid technology. It also continues to research and develop the use of micro jet turbine engines developed by Bladon Jets.

Bob Joyce, group engineering director at Jaguar Land Rover, says: "The C-X75 will be the most powerful electric vehicle in the world and it will be manufactured in the UK in two years' time."

Justin Cunningham

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