New gas engines could spark fuel economy wars

Achieving hybrid-like fuel economy without increasing costs, while increasing performance could create serious competition amongst automakers to achieve the greatest fuel efficient performance possible.

Suddenly cheap, powerful fuel efficiency could rule.

Hybrid fuel economy without hybrid technology?

In the last few weeks and months there have been some very interesting stories regarding new developments in gasoline engines. For instance, HCCI engines utilizing longer chain alcohols that offer diesel-like efficiency without the noxious emissions; or highly turbocharged alcohol-fueled direct-injection spark-ignition (DISI) engines that offer even better fuel economy, power and lower emissions than diesel engines at a lower cost than diesel engines.

And then there is Mazda's SKYACTIV-G engine that rethinks technologies like variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, resulting in hybrid fuel economy without any extra batteries or motors – reducing costs – and the engine is fully scalable across all vehicle platforms.

Along with turbocharging, automatic start-stop and high-tech transmissions, according to CNNMoney, these technologies could be combined in a number of ways that result in vehicles that achieve hybrid-like fuel economy, while offering greater performance and reduced costs compared to current hybrid cars.

Of course, adding mild or full hybrid technologies to these new engines could drastically increase fuel economy as well.

Regardless, it seems that much higher fuel economy is at hand, without reducing performance or increasing costs. What seems to be lacking, however, is the incentive to chase efficient performance the way horsepower has been chased in the past. Eventually, however, such an outcome seems destined – whether that future is manufactured and assembled in the US or not.

Sadly, in recent months I've read a number of articles on the declining importance of the US auto market. More and more the US market is less important to automaker success. Even worse, vehicles made for the US market simply don't translate well outside the US. Consequently, the Honda Fit hybrid, for example, will be sold in Europe, but not the US – some speculate – because of higher US safety standards, standards dictated by the overabundance of large and heavy vehicles in the US.

Cheap and powerful fuel efficiency is going to rule the automotive market as emerging markets, and the key to future auto success, will put ever greater emphasis on cost-effectiveness. Therefore, the longer the US waits to embrace such an efficiency-driven focus, the sooner we'll say goodbye to even more US-based auto jobs.

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