The Obama administration has recently put in place new regulations for car manufacturers to increase fuel economy in all vehicles by 2025 or face serious punishments. The increase isn’t slight either; the government wants fuel economy to nearly double from an average of 28.6mpg to a mighty 54.5mpg – and that is definitely going to take some work. The regulations would reduce the US consumption of oil by 12 billion barrels per year. This extends on the previously announced 2016 standard of 35.5 mpg.
While the innovations of recent years have unquestionably moved things towards the intermediate goal, manufacturers are still a substantial way from using technology that will boost a normal car’s engine to such a high economy figure across their line-ups.
The problem lies with the combustion engine. For the better part of a century, the combustion engine has been the heartbeat of our automotive vehicles but, as you’re aware, we are running out of oil and damaging our planet with excessive CO2 emissions, so what do we do? The only option seems to be innovation or abandonment.
Pessimistically speaking, petrol and diesel are going to be the number one automotive fuel sources for a good time yet, so while electric power and hydrogen fuel are waiting in the wings – with the latter of which definitely looking like the real deal for world-saving – it seems we need to optimise our petrol and diesel-powered technologies out first.
Turbo technology seems to have worked well in small petrol engines. Many manufacturers now place little turbo chargers in their 1.2-litre and smaller capacity engines to boost power, reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. But it’s a trend that has only just started to catch on and it seems unclear as to whether that will be the standard-bearer in years to come. Other manufacturers are instead pursuing aerodynamics in their vehicle designs; streamlining features such as wheel arches, windshield angle, air intakes, hubcaps and spoilers.
But are they doing enough? I and really innovate alternative and combustion engine technology so they not only achieve more powerful engines but more economical ones, too.
Whether the research will be funded by an increase in vehicle price tag remains to be seen. However, the Obama administration has projected that the net savings for the owner of a 54.5 mpg oil dependent car would be “comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon”, which would offer motorists a substantial saving over the lifetime of the vehicle.
The trouble is in the achieving continued incremental improvements. The combustion engine, as a concept, is perfectly fine. We’ve managed to create something that just works – it’s just that it uses too much fuel for today’s world. So making big alterations to something which already works apparently well is very difficult – hence why we’re seeing smaller steps in economy-improvement than you might expect. Manufacturers too, are eager to play their cards close to their chests – filing patents that, while getting them ahead of the competition, may prevent innovation proceeding across manufacturers at the pace required for the 2025 deadline.
George writes for car rental company Sixt. His main form of transport is the humble bicycle, which he is currently planning to use to tour Eastern Europe with next summer.