Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – To find solutions to pending U.S. vehicle-emissions mandates, don’t just look under the hood, powertrain experts tell attendees of the 2010 SAE International World Congress here.

Weight reduction, aerodynamics and low rolling-resistance tires are among the technologies that will figure prominently if the industry is to achieve the required 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) fleet average by 2016.

Citing her company’s EcoBoost technology, which combines turbocharging and direct injection, Ford Motor Co.’s Barbara Samardzich says engines and transmissions already contribute mightily to the cause.

“Near-term (advancement) really relies on weight reduction,” says Samardzich, vice president-powertrain engineering.

Expect “significant emphasis” on aerodynamics and low rolling-resistance tires, adds Timothy White, senior manager-powertrain development, Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center Inc.

Hyundai-Kia also is banking heavily on direct injection and, long-term, has its sights set on stratified gasoline direct injection.

Compliance with the recently passed regulations will require the auto maker to improve its performance 5%-12% between now and 2012, followed by another 15% hike by 2016, White says.

Electrification also will contribute to compliance, though the extent of that technology’s proliferation is unclear. Samardzich suggests a global penetration of 25% by 2020, adding hybrid-electric vehicles will be most common, followed by plug-in hybrids.

All-electric vehicles will be a distant third, she adds, pegging the total U.S. fleet at about 400,000. This compares with about 425,000 for Europe and just under 1 million for China.

While Ford expects HEVs to dominate the market, Samardzich notes PHEVs portend greater electric-only range – an important consideration for auto makers.

“Customers (are) going to be demanding more and more in terms of environmental consciousness,” she says in a presentation before a panel discussion that featured White and powertrain chiefs from Chrysler Group LLC, Honda R&D Co. Ltd. and battery-supplier A123 Systems Inc.

Though Chrysler last month confirmed production of a Fiat 500 EV, Paolo Ferrero, senior vice president-powertrain, warns electrification remains a costly way to improve fuel efficiency. “(EVs) can expand when and if they become a cost-effective proposition for the customer,” he says.

Despite the presence of 22 HEV models sold in the U.S. today, they comprise just 2.2% of the market, according to Ward’s data.

On the heels of Chrysler’s cancellation of its planned hybrid Ram fullsize pickup, the auto maker’s strategy favors technologies that improve internal-combustion engines, such as MultiAir variable valve timing technology from partner Fiat Automobiles SpA.

“With MultiAir, we have both benefits,” Ferrero says of improving fuel economy and reducing tailpipe emissions. And for a single cost, he adds.

Ferrero also champions engines that accommodate compressed natural gas, as well as Fiat’s MultiJet light-duty diesel mills.

Asked why Ford does not offer a light-duty diesel engine in its popular F-150 pickup, Samardzich says the auto maker is handcuffed by the added cost of diesel technology, emissions-mitigation systems and the higher price of fuel in the U.S., compared with gasoline.

“It becomes a value equation,” she says.

emayne@wardsauto.com