MONTICELLO, NY – Engine downsizing will be driving growth of turbocharging in the next few years, says Honeywell, a leading supplier to the auto industry.

“We're looking at a steady-state growth,” a Honeywell spokesman says.

Only about 10% of light vehicles sold in the U.S. at present offer turbocharging, but Borg Warner, Honeywell's chief competitor, forecasts that will grow to 40% in five years and 80% by 2020.

Supplier BorgWarner forecasts global volumes of light vehicles with turbocharged engines to grow from 25million units in 2012to 36 million in 2017.

The U.S. is one of the fastest growing markets currently, says BorgWarner, which also forecasts penetration to more than double in the next five years.

Engine downsizing is the big reason. “We estimate 2-, 3- and 4-cyl. global light-vehicle engines will account for nearly 98% of total engine growth from 2011-2016,” a BorgWarner spokesperson says.

Ford leads the turbocharging transition among U.S. auto makers. About 40% of the auto maker’s vehicles now offer turbo-powered direct-injection EcoBoost engines, a spokesman says. By 2016, 95% of Ford’s North American nameplates will have an EcoBoost engine option, and 83% globally.

Honeywell says about 50% of its business has been in Europe up to now, but predicts substantial growth in the U.S. and Asia throughout the rest of the decade.

When Honeywell acquired Allied Signal for $15 billion in 1999, it took over Garrett Turbochargers and soared to leadership in the segment. Today, Honeywell Turbo Technologies is planning to open its 12th manufacturing plant, in Slovakia, early next year. The other 11 factories are spread throughout the world, except in the U.S.

The company says it has no plans to open a turbocharger manufacturing facility in the U.S., despite its forecast that turbo demand will soar here in the next few years. But a spokesman says the company could build a plant and start production quickly if market demand warrants.

Honeywell estimates there are more than 50 million vehicles on the road today equipped with its turbochargers. The smallest turbo is for the Indian-made Tata Nano's 0.8L engine. At the other end of the scale is Caterpillar’s 100.0L engine for its mining truck.

The supplier says it won $3 billion in new turbo business during the past year, with the bulk of that destined for Europe where half the light vehicles produced have turbocharging.

Some 71% of Honeywell turbochargers are sold for passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicles consume the rest. The company makes turbos for diesel, gasoline, compressed-natural-gas and hybrid engines, and 75% of its output is sold to OEMs.

Turbos provide up to 40% greater fuel economy compared with naturally aspirated engines with the same horsepower, Honeywell claims. That's why more stringent fuel-economy regulations augur well for future growth of turbocharging applications, the spokesman says.

The company forecasts turbocharging will grow from 21% in 2009 to 67% by 2020 in its product portfolio.

Ford says its EcoBoost engines are designed to last the life of the vehicle. Engineers start with a clean sheet when creating the new powerplants; turbochargers are not just attached to existing engines, a company spokesman emphasizes.

However, downsizing accomplished with turbocharging doesn't result in lower prices. Engines with fewer cylinders and EcoBoost cost anywhere from $750 to $1,500 more than larger naturally aspirated engines. But smaller turbo engines do provide more power and torque.

“The real story (of EcoBoost) is not fuel economy, but capability,” the Ford spokesman says, noting the F-150 fullsize pickup with a 3.5L EcoBoost engine has towing capability of 11,300 lbs. (5,126 kg).

Ford ultimately plans to replace its V-8 engines with V-6s; V-6s with 4-cyls. and even downsize a 4-cyl. offering in the Focus with a 3-cyl. powerplant.

Continental will supply the turbocharger for the new 3-cyl. direct-injection gasoline engine that will generate 99-118 hp from the displacement of just 1 liter. The engines are slated for installation initially in the ’12 Ford Focus and later in the C-Max and the upcoming small B-Max multipurpose vehicle.

Chevrolet's new Cruze with a 1.4L 4-cyl. has a turbo take rate of 70%, and Buick Regal turbo penetration is running at 30%. Overall, “Our boosted (turbo) ’11 model-year volume in the U.S. is currently almost four times that of 2010,” GM spokesman Tom Read says.

Half of the engines GM sells in Europe are turbocharged. However, Read declines to forecast turbo penetration over the next five years. “We expect the penetration to continue to grow. We'll make sure to provide the customer with whatever technology is right for them.”

Supercharging and cylinder-activation are other technologies GM can use to keep engine displacement small and performance big, he suggests.

Chrysler is the lone Detroit auto maker that doesn't offer any turbocharged engines at present. But a spokesperson says the company will offer turbocharging in the Fiat 500 Abarth next year, as well as other engine enhancements to improve performance.

German luxury auto makers perhaps are the most aggressive in adopting turbocharging technology. It started with a need to boost power in diesel engines, but now the OEMs are using turbos in gasoline-fueled engines wholeheartedly.

“I can see when there will be no naturally aspirated engines in our lineup in less than five years,” a BMW spokesman says.

Mercedes-Benz will equip 23 of its 53 ’12 models with turbos, not including the Sprinter, Maybach or Smart marques. The turbochargers will be fitted to a range of 4-, 6- and 8-cyl. engines. A new V-8 will have a turbocharger for each cylinder bank in the CLS550.

The new turbos spin at 150,000 rpm and provide more power, while allowing Mercedes engineers to reduce displacement.

Japanese engines generally are naturally aspirated, with little reliance on turbocharging. South Korea’s Hyundai offers turbocharged engines in only two of its 11 models sold in the U.S.

For auto makers, the economics of downsizing and adding turbocharging may be a push. In a recent analysis of BorgWarner, Himanshu Patel of JP Morgan says OEMs may save $100 per eliminated cylinder, but a light-vehicle turbocharger costs about $200-$300 per unit, suggesting there is no overall hardware savings.

A BorgWarner spokeswoman says the cost for turbochargers to OEMs ranges from $200-$600.

However, Ford claims EcoBoost produces 20% better fuel economy without sacrificing performance; rather often enhancing power output. That may be the most compelling reason driving the turbocharger revolution in the U.S. light-vehicle market today.