TRAVERSE CITY, MI – These days, you can’t get anybody in the powertrain sector to agree about anything when it comes to what’s best for the future.

Some like hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) solutions. European auto makers and suppliers favor diesels. Environmentalists say we already should be using fuel cells.

Actually, everybody at the Advanced Power Technology Forum at the Management Briefing Seminars here did agree on one thing: There isn’t one single answer.

Graham Hoare, Ford Motor Co. director-powertrain Rrsearch and development, says when comparing “well-to-wheels” carbon-dioxide output (a common way of comparing emissions potential for various powertrain systems), there isn’t much difference between diesels, HEVs and fuel cells when the source fuel is fossil-based.

Hoare says only when tailpipe emissions are considered does a fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) shoulder ahead, but don’t expect to see a significant volume of FCVs for at least 20 years.

Hoare says Ford expects gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines to be the dominant powertrain even in 2020. So to make any fuel-economy or emissions impact, “we will have to focus on gasoline engines,” he says.

In transitioning to hydrogen-fueled FCVs, Hoare says Ford is hopeful for hydrogen-fueled IC engines. Conventional engines using hydrogen “have been extremely successful in testing,” he says, adding they could help to “kick-start the hydrogen economy.”

Dave Hermance

But Dave Hermance, executive engineer-Environmental Engineering Dept., Toyota Technical Center, USA Inc., says simply, “There is not yet a clear winner,” among the currently competing future powertrain technologies. “There may not be a clear winner for a long time.”

Toyota Motor Corp. has a vested interest in hybrid technology, with ambitious plans to offer HEV variants of many of its mainstream models.

Toyota also supplies or licenses much of its HEV componentry to rival auto makers. Hermance takes issue with a Center for Automotive Research figure that suggests HEVs cost $4,000-$7,000 more than the same vehicle with a conventional IC engine.

If that were the case, he says Toyota would be “bleeding in red ink. As long as (those outside of Toyota) keep believing that, I’ll have the market to myself,” he says.

Mark Chernoby, vice president-advanced vehicle engineering, Chrysler Group, says his company is continuing to evaluate which powertrain options will best suit the auto maker’s own business model. He says the company has identified four primary drivers that will dictate decisions: fuel economy, performance, energy security and environmental impact.

Moreover, Chernoby says, any future powertrain solution will have to be one that is viable in the market, one that “satisfies customer needs in multiple segments. I don’t think consumers are ever going to reduce their demand for performance.”

Chernoby says market acceptance is critical for any advanced powertrain to achieve “significant enough (market) penetration to make a difference.”

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com