Automakers Mull Direction To Meet Higher Fuel Standards

By Automotive Staff | August 02, 2007
Double-overhead cams on your car's engine may go the way of the hand-cranked starter in cars of the future, if proposed changes to fuel-efficiency standards are implemented.Look for camless valve actuation--using solenoids to open and close engine valves--to be used, instead, as that method can significantly boost fuel economy. Other technological changes that can boost mileage figures include direct injection, turbocharging, and electrically powered steering and water pumps. In addition, weight needs to be shaved off of vehicles for their efficiency to rise, so look for more materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum to be used, instead of that old auto-plant stalwart, steel. All of these technological changes are coming because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering bills that would raise the mileage standards that auto makers have to meet. The Senate has already decided that a company's vehicles should get an average of 35 mg by the year 2020 (for both cars and light trucks, instead of current rules which provide for different standards for each class). The House is considering separate legislation, and may stick with having different figures for cars and trucks -- but would still insist on higher mileage than what is required today.
Analysts say that 35 mpg can be achived, though not without a lot of work. "We think given the pace of technology, they're going to be able to do it," said George Magliano, a director of automotive research for Global Insight. However, in order to do it, more cars would have to be powered by hybrid or diesel engines, for starters. Another analyst said that the U.S. auto fleet would basically have to resemble the European auto fleet (more smaller cars, and more diesels) -- which would be a dramatic sea change. (Pictured is Mercedes-Benz's Bluetec Hybrid which utilizes a hybrid diesel engine.) Would manufacturers have to turn away from making large trucks and SUVs? Perhaps, although given the recent shift in interest from SUVs to crossover vehicles (which are smaller and lighter -- and more fuel-efficient -- but still provide the roominess and cargo-hauling capabilities of an SUV), the public may be on the same track as the Washington lawmakers, especially with the recent surge in gasoline prices. If consumers want their cake and be able to eat it, too, and not be relegated to a future of driving Daihatsu Charade-sized mini-cars, then vehicle manufacturers will have to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge of the proposed legislation, by designing very fuel-efficient larger cars as well as smaller ones. via CNN