Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

Summary:If you're like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the term "turbo-charged" is all those muscle cars that people like to show off and rev up at classic car shows during the summer in hamburger joint parking lots. Raw power is the goal, not fuel efficiency.

If you're like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the term "turbo-charged" is all those muscle cars that people like to show off and rev up at classic car shows during the summer in hamburger joint parking lots. Raw power is the goal, not fuel efficiency. But, actually, turbo-charged engines are a big deal in Europe, precisely because they offer improvements in the latter area. And one of the biggest forces behind this technology, Honeywell, believes the United States is ripe for a surge in turbo-charged vehicles.

The company has released some figures that suggest the turbo-charged vehicle segment could double over the next five years. That means we'd go from about 17 million new turbo vehicles in 2009 to around 35 million by 2015.

I spoke with the group's vice president of communications, Joe Toubes, about what that means. He says Honeywell, which is behind the turbo enhancements coming from Ford and Chevy to name just two, aggregating that forecast from several research projections (including the venerable JD Power & Associates) as well as its own internal data from working with customers.

This is a global, industry-wide statement but Honeywell believes that changing Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) requirements will spur a turbo movement in the United States. By 2025, we're supposed to be driving new vehicles that have in excess of 60 miles per gallon. Right now, turbo represents about 5 percent of the U.S. vehicles sold, or about 1 million units. By 2015, though, Honeywell thinks turbo-charged vehicles will represent about 20 percent of the U.S. market, or 4 million vehicles.

Of course, it is in Honeywell's interest to think this. But, to be real, our progress with electric vehicles and hybrids isn't exactly breaking any land-speed records. Turbo promises much higher efficiency -- up to 20 percent better fuel economy on gasoline-power vehicles and up to 40 percent for diesel engines -- that can't be ignored.

The big thing that is going to inspire the turbo movement in new vehicles, Toubes says, is the adoption of smaller turbo-charged vehicles. Two U.S. examples are the Ford EcoBoost line (Ford is saying it will offer an EcoBoost option in 90 percent of its brand by 2013) and the 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco. Honeywell's technology also drives the Volkswagen Polo in Europe, a five-seat car that is designed to get 70 miles to the gallon.

What about the turbo aftermarket? Right now, that's still the province of car-geek types. But as turbo-tech is released in new cars over the next five years, the turbo aftermarket might take on a new flavor.

I'm not suggesting that electric vehicles won't eventually find their way, but given the continued inaction of U.S. policymakers on helping support innovation in that sector, things seem to have stalled and it doesn't surprise me at all to hear that turbo is moving into the fast lane.

Topics: Tech Industry

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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