Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

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.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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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.

Topic: Tech Industry

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14 comments
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  • A 70 m.p.g. car is MUCH greener than electric.

    The carbon footprint of manufacture is lower for a conventional car. The carbon footprint during its usage is also lower than an electric car, because the electricity production and distribution is less thermally efficient than an internal combustion engine. A conventional car doesn't require all the rare elements. (Electric vehicles will cause tragic ecological harm through mining). And it doesn't create the chemical and pollution problems that battery recycling are likely to bring. All in all, electric cars are a bit of an ecological disaster!
    peter_erskine@...
    • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

      @peter_erskine@...

      Not to mention you have to replace the batteries before you would typically replace the car. The cost of the batteries offsets a large portion of the savings you're getting from the increased mileage. Electric Vehicles aren't there yet, and likely won't be until we are much more efficient at harnessing energy in general.
      LiquidLearner
  • How about all of the above?

    How about a turbocharged diesel gas-electric hybrid? You should be able to get mad mileage out of a power system like that.
    doodlius
    • It depends

      @doodlius<br><br>If you are driving down the highway at cruising speed in a hybrid diesel electric, you are probably losing efficiency, because even electric motors and generators are far from 100% efficient. I addition, you carry the extra weight of the "electric" parts (generator/motor and battery)<br><br>In congested city driving however, where a lot of idling and stop and go driving are involved, diesel electric hybrids might make sense. You can charge the batteries when needed at peak diesel efficiency and shut the diesel down the rest of the time and only use the batteries.<br><br>If you have access to "clean" electricity (wind or solar generated) it could also make a lot of sense to use such a vehicle for commuting if the distances are not too great. You could charge the batteries overnight and have essentially an electric vehicle to drive every day. On those days when you might need to drive a bit farther than the batteries would permit, the diesel generator would kick in and and give you an essentially unlimited range.<br><br>An interesting possibility with hybrids is to be able to use both the diesel engine AND the electric motor to drive the wheels at the same time. Then you can make both the diesel motor and the electric motor smaller/less powerful/more efficient and either power plant would suffice for most driving conditions. For high speed cruising up hills etc. both power plants could kick in to provide sufficient power. If say you had a 50hp diesel motor and a 50hp electric motor, you would have 100hp on tap for a limited duration. For most driving conditions, a car with a 100hp engine would use substantially less than half in normal driving, which means that even with a dead battery, the diesel could provide propulsion AND charge the batteries. I could see a vehicle where the diesel engine could drive the front wheels and/or the generator and a couple of small electric motors would drive each of the rear wheels, for example.
      Economister
      • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

        @Economister

        "If you have access to "clean" electricity (wind or solar generated)"

        Neither wind or solar are really clean, and they certainly are not efficient. The components used in these production methods are polluting to fabricate. On top of that, people forget that these cyclical electricity producers need a duplicate backup to fill the gaps when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. That means you have to build a gas turbine generating plant of the same capacity to supply when needed. Gas turbines are ideal because they can be turned on and off easily, but somebody has to pay for them.
        jorjitop
  • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

    Turbos and superchargers are great devices. I'm glad to see that there is a push now to get people to see them as increasing efficiency, and not just a plaything for gearheads. A great side effect of a turbo'd engine is that the engine itself is smaller, which makes for a lighter vehicle and even more gains in fuel economy. I find it strange that turbos haven't come out of the niche and high-end markets sooner. Smaller, turbo engines should even be cheaper to produce. Of course, the car industry loves to charge more for less. Just look at Porsche (I love you Porsche, but your pricing is sometimes a little wacky).
    gotamd@...
    • More for less

      @gotamd@... <br><br>It is probably cheaper to increase displacement than adding a turbo. Turbos are high precision devices spinning at VERY high RPMs. Given the North American car manufacturers' apparent historical indifference towards fuel efficiency (or maybe more accurately, the consumers' indifference) it is not surprising at all that turbos have not caught on.<br><br>As a more practical matter, ALL turbocharged engines suffer from turbo lag when stepping on the throttle at low RPM. If you are not an enthusiast or knowledgeable driver, you may find this annoying or even intolerable.
      Economister
      • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

        @Economister

        The latest small engine from VW combines a supercharger with a turbocharger to avoid the lag. The supercharger works immediately, and the turbocharger comes in at higher rpms. This is a 1.2 or 1.3 litre engine but gives the performance of a 2.0 litre. At the same time, it gives much higher gas mileage and lower emissions.

        Until battery technology improves enormously, electric or hybrid cars will remain very inefficient and polluting in their totality. For now, if you ignore the pleasure of driving, diesel and turbo-diesel engines are the way to go.
        jorjitop
  • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

    If you've read Car and Driver recently, a publication BTW that has a lot more knowledge about cars than this website, you'll find an article which looks at turbo engines replacing naturally aspirated engines in various models of cars. In all of the models they looked at, and there were lots both European and North American, the actual mileage in the turbo engined models was worse than in the same model with a larger naturally aspirated engine. So much for turbos in gasoline engines.
    Goldie07
  • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

    And wind power is a dead end. Why would I buy a car that would only run 30% of the time, and even then only when it wanted to run not when I needed it to run. I wouldn't accept this and neither would you. So why do we think that's an acceptable way to generate electricity? There is a reason why farmers dumped windmills 100 years ago.
    Goldie07
  • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

    Gentlemen, I appreciate that we are all entitled to our own preferences, but let's remember that we are (or should be) behind the same goals of technology innovation, energy efficiency, and environmental benefits. We are entitled not to like electric vehicles, but spreading misinformation will only hurt this nascent technology segment. Let's be responsible. "Electric vehicles are a bit of an ecological disaster"? Really? Compared to the tragic history of environmental damage of petroleum fuels? Comparing thermal efficiencies of electricity production with gasoline combustion is misinformed. Should we compare efficiencies of producing fuels (electricity vs gasoline)? Should we then compare efficiencies of fuel use (electric motor vs internal combustion)?
    gcoll2006
    • Electric and hybrid cars produce a greater CO2 burden

      @gcoll2006
      than turbo-diesels. With a little care, it's fairly easy to get 75 mpg from a 1.9 TDI. Calculations have shown that if the environmental costs of energy production are factored in, the electric cars will cause more harm. Not just substantially higher CO2 production, but potential damage from the cars more toxic contents.
      peter_erskine@...
      • RE: Conflicted about electric vehicles? Turbo-charging offers alternative.

        @peter_erskine@...
        I have done a fair amount of lifecycle analysis and never found results that favor diesels over electrics on an environmental benefit basis. But I am open to review my beliefs if you share the references to the "calculations" you mention (i.e. authors and titles of publications). Looking forward to reading them.
        gcoll2006
  • Well-to-wheel comparisons

    At http://www.cypenv.org/eewiki/index.php/Well-to-wheels there is a table that gives diesel a pollution index of 1.2, but an electric car who's grid electricity came from fossil fuels has a pollution index of 3.
    A study by the Sloan Automotive Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, funded by Ford, found that electric vehicles plugged into nuclear or renewable sources would result in drastic reductions in emissions; however, vehicles powered by electricity from coal plants would have larger carbon footprints than conventional automobiles, let alone turbo diesels!
    I know that in the USA there is a desire exemplified by Sen. Lamar Alexander to to electrify half the cars and trucks within 20 years, which would reduce dependence on petroleum products by about a third. What that doesn't mention is that it would shift these vehicles onto coal-produced electricity.
    Then there's the fact that a turbo-diesel can have a lifetime of over 350,000 miles if the owner wishes. This is beneficial compared to the harmful effects of manufacturing vehicles with much shorter lives. I believe that electric vehicles will not be so hard-wearing and there is a risk that they will reach "beyond economical repair" status after a fairly short life (just my personal suspicion).
    I'd be in favour of cars with hydrogen fuel-cell technology, and nuclear electricity production for the national grids. There will still be severe difficulties over the exotic elements currently used in electric motors, though. It will be necessary to revert to magnets made of commoner materials.
    peter_erskine@...