Special Coverage

Auto Show

GENEVA – French inventor Vianney Rabhi has increased the performance of his variable compression engine in the past year, and at the auto show here he increases his marketing presence with a stand and a press conference.

Even so, he says, it will be 2016 or 2017 before his Variable Compression Ratio engines are in production, although he expects to sign his second licensing agreement with a manufacturer this year.

“It takes 20 years to develop an engine,” he says, “but now is the time to invest. The auto makers have to be ready for the future.”

Rabhi says talks between his company, MCE-5 Development SA, and the Detroit Three occur “every week,” adding the U.S. auto makers are prime candidates to license his technology because they need to leap ahead of the technical levels of European manufacturers.

In the past year, his VCRi engine has moved from the laboratory to under the hood of a Peugeot 407. The 1.5L engine produces 220 hp and 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque, giving the Peugeot 407 fuel consumption of 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km).

That compares with 211 hp, 214 lb.-ft. (290 Nm) of torque and 16 mpg (14.7 L/100 km) for the Peugeot 407’s stock 2.9L gasoline V-6. A 2.7L turbodiesel also is offered in the production car, delivering 204 hp, 325 lb.-ft. (440 Nm) of torque and 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km).

PSA was the technology’s first licensee, working closely with the inventor until 2004, but the French company now is taking a “wait and see” approach, Rabhi says.

Providing the performance of a big engine with better fuel economy will be a competitive advantage for auto makers as they face fines in Europe for every gram of carbon dioxide their fleets average above the goal of 130 g/km.

MCI’s design concept has a less dramatic effect with smaller engines, Rabhi says, but performance gains still amount to 15%-20%.

“It is essential to have new technology for gasoline engines that are at the heart of the market,” he says. “More than 80% of the world’s cars are gasoline (fueled). Other technologies will emerge, but gasoline will remain at the heart of the market for years.”

Because compression can be adjusted to the combustion properties of different fuels, the technology is adaptable to a world where fuel for spark ignition engines will evolve, he says.

The VCRi engine uses few parts from existing designs and would require substantial tooling investments. Rabhi estimates a VCRi would cost about €500 ($628) more than a conventional gasoline engine, and between €300 ($377) and €500 less than a conventional diesel.

At the heart of the engine is a high-tech mechanical part that adjusts the stroke of the piston, while maintaining the transfer of power from the piston to the crankshaft.

Over the years, Rabhi has worked on the mechanics and reducing friction losses. His objective for 2010 is to improve the engine’s fuel economy another 7%, while further increasing power with gasoline direct injection.

He also will be working on optimizing the piston temperature and combustion chamber and cooling exhaust gases.