Turbocharger Growth Will Be Determined by Economics And Emissions

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turbocharger-fuel-economyAmerican cars with turbochargers are currently few and far between, but that may soon be changing. While a significant and sustained increase in the price of fuel would greatly boost demand for turbochargers, auto manufacturers’ need to comply with carbon emissions and fuel economy targets will be the primary drivers of the domestic turbocharger market. When compared with cars with similar horsepower, those with turbocharged smaller engines can reduce emissions by 20 to 40 percent, and can increase fuel economy by 15 to 20 percent.

As is often the case, the U.S. lags Europe in adoption of this technology, partly because it has primarily been used with diesel engines. Turbochargers are now used in about half of all European cars. By comparison, U.S. penetration is at just five percent.

The rising CAFE requirements has convinced automakers to announce a slew of electric vehicle and hybrid models, but in coming years turbochargers are likely to get more attention as a less-costly way to increase their fleet average performance.

A few new U.S.-market cars are featuring turbochargers, which enable smaller engines (such as four cylinder engines instead of six) to approximate the power of larger engines. Ford is now running television spots to promote its EcoBoost technology, which includes a Honeywell turbocharger. EcoBoost will be showing up in the 2010 Lincoln MKS, Ford Flex, and the Taurus SHO.

We are likely to see a gradual shift to more 4-cylinder sedans that emphasize performance, as well as 6-cylinder cars replacing 8s. This “transparent downsizing” is good from a fossil fuel and emissions standpoint because even small improvements in fuel efficiency will have a much greater net impact than similar reductions in higher MPG vehicles.

Honeywell Turbo Technologies’ Vice President of Marketing David Paja projects that turbocharging will grow to 25 percent of all new vehicles in the U.S. within 5 years. Paja says the European market could grow from 50 to 70 percent during the same time. Honeywell looks to benefit from any growth as the company supplies turbochargers to most of the world’s largest automakers, including but not limited to Audi, BMW, Chery, Citroen, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, Renault, Tata and Toyota.

Paja said that Japan hasn’t been as receptive to turbochargers because of government incentives that make hybrids attractive for increasing fuel efficiency. Turbocharger company Borg-Warner is also like to get a share of an expanding market. The company recently signed a deal to supply vehicles to First Automotive Works of China.

However, turbocharging won’t do much for improving the fuel economy in the today’s compacts, which already feature smaller 4-cylinder engines. Adding turbocharging brings more power, but usually at the cost of greater fuel consumption. For example, Subaru recently announced that it is offering a turbocharged version of its Legacy sedan, which gets slightly worse gas miles (18/25) than its standard model (19/27).

For that reason, a 25 percent U.S. market share in the U.S. might be on the optimistic side. With new hybrids, EVs, and compacts coming to market, there simply won’t be enough people interested in paying the premium for diesel and performance-oriented vehicles. If there were a turbocharged 3-cylinder car on the market (like BMW’s plug-in concept), then we might see higher penetration.

Turbochargers and electric motors can work hand in hand with electric motors to satisfy power-hungry drivers. BMW’s new X-6 and Series 7 Active Hybrids will feature turbochargers and generate an impressive 480 hp. The combined cost premium of hybrid motors and turbocharging will probably exceed $5,000, but performance-minded consumers are less price sensitive.

Article appearing courtesy of Matter Network

[photo credit: Matthew Hine]

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1 Comment

  1. chizzell wizell on

    Old news. Look it up – The Nissan Titan 5.7L has a computer available for it (for $400) that has pre-set tunes to get it 40-60 mpg. The only reason Americans waste more gas than Europe is because Americans value horsepower over gas mileage.

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