TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Superchargers most often are associated with tire-smoking high-performance cars such as the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang and shrewdly engineered, downsized powerhouses such as Audi’s superb 3.0L V-6.

But Staci Kroon, president-automotive, North America Div. for Eaton’s Vehicle Group, says fuel-economy and emissions regulations are creating new demand for superchargers for a variety of engines, from big commercial diesels to gasoline and diesel engines for small cars and hybrid-electric vehicles.

She also expects to see more auto makers combine superchargers with turbochargers, as Volkswagen did with its highly innovative but now discontinued TwinCharger 1.4L gasoline engine.

Like turbochargers, superchargers pump extra air into engine combustion chambers to create more power. However superchargers are powered by a crankshaft-driven belt instead of hot exhaust gases, thereby providing instantaneous power at low engine speeds with no lag.

“We think you’ll see superchargers in diesels, not immediately,” Kroon tells WardsAuto in an interview on the sidelines of the Management Briefing Seminars here. “But there is a lot of interest in the idea, and work is going on in diesels both in the passenger-car space and commercial space.

“Superchargers offer opportunities for different ways to solve (diesel) emissions challenges; especially in the commercial vehicle space there is an opportunity to reduce the size of their after-treatment systems.”

Superchargers can help engine designers hone in on combustion sweet spots that maximize power and minimize emissions, she says.

However, one of Eaton’s hottest products now is lightweight, hollow engine valves. While not a new concept, they help optimize combustion and the operation of today’s sophisticated valve trains. The demand is so high, the supplier has not even felt the impact from the industry’s shift to smaller engines. Fewer cylinders means fewer valves.

“Hollow valves have a new life,” Kroon says. “We’re making some big investments in the hollow valve business,” she says, adding that auto makers from all over the world are interested in the new-design valves.

But just how much capacity needs to be added is a quandary she discusses in a panel here on purchasing. With many customers clamoring for the valves, it is difficult to predict exactly how much capacity is needed to keep each one supplied without turning the investment into a money pit during the next industry downturn.

It is a dilemma faced by many auto suppliers today. They all want to satisfy their customers’ needs, but adding capacity also involves substantial risk if the marketplace suddenly softens.

“We all remember 2008,” Kroon says.

dwinter@wardsauto.com