The Detroit News recently hit the throttle right on the head when it reported that “four-cylinder and smaller engines are expected to power the majority of vehicles produced this year in North America for the first time in modern automobile history.” But as automakers release increasingly fuel-efficient engines, they have found that people still want some zip to go along with all that engine efficiency. Enter the turbocharger: a spooling fan system powered by exhaust gases, which pushes fresh air into the engine, thus making a typical four-cylinder engine as powerful (or more) as a traditional V6, while a boosted V6 can become as robust as a thirsty V8.
Turbocharged engines have been a small slice of the automotive pie for decades, with the majority of applications being either of European or Japanese design. But all of that is changing as Ford rolls out its fresh turbocharged Ecoboost engines, and Subaru moves forward with plans to increase its boosted STI department, all while Korean auto makers Kia and Hyundai release turbo-powered version of their Optima and Sonata.They aren’t the only ones slapping turbos on cars, as Detroit News reports that turbocharged engines have “expanded to about 21 percent of cars sold in the United States in 2014.”
Nitin Kulkarni, of industry leader Honeywell Turbo Technologies, says that “the trend in downsizing is happening, when you make smaller engines, the easiest way to restore power is turbocharging.” Honeywell, (the maker of Garrett Turbos) supplies almost every major auto and truck manufacturer in the world with the equipment. “We’re in the golden age of turbos,” said Kukarni, who is Honeywell Transportation Systems vice president of North America, Japan, and Korea. “We are a no-compromise solution because we can be literally applied to all kinds of vehicle sizes, fuels, and engine strategies.”
So why the sudden interest in turbocharged technologies? There is now a federal regulation in place that states that all automakers must have vehicles that achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Also, new advancements in turbo design have made cars increasingly powerful, so performance enthusiasts are clamoring for more sport options. But a turbocharged engine typically costs hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars more than a traditional non-boosted engine. So how are auto makers going to win over the budget-minded individual?
The chart seen here illustrates that by 2021, IHS Automotive expects turbos to represent 38% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. That is huge, considering that WardsAuto predicts that 51.8% of light-duty vehicles in North America will also have four-cylinder engines, which is a stark contrast to what we saw back in 2005, when small motors only powered 27% of cars. But with Americans still hooked on horsepower, it is safe to assume that the majority of these vehicles are going to be force-fed in order to keep buyers interested.
Ford is one of the companies that has spearheaded the “boost boom,” offering turbos on everything from an F-150 to a Mustang. The Detroit News’ study shows that Ford produced more than 1.6 million turbocharged engines globally in 2014 (up more than 30% from the year prior) and that today more than 190,000 EcoBoost engines are assembled every month (a massive increase of 90% from 2013). EcoBoost options on a 2015 F-150 range anywhere from $800 to $2,300, which may sound pricey, but it is still far less expensive than opting for, say, a plug-in hybrid version of a vehicle.
Turbo manufacturers are also looking to increase efficiency by shedding any unnecessary weight via the use of aluminum components. While this lightweight metal does get considerably hotter than steel, world-renowned tire maker Continental continues to work on a design that improves efficiency while lowering the weight by 30% over a steel unit. If this design works it would be an industry first, as the double-walled aluminum housing uses a water-jacket cooling system to encase the turbo.
But this revolutionary development is still in its infancy, and steel turbos offer fantastic options in order to keep both consumer and manufacturer alike up to speed. Being a guy who has upgraded the turbocharged system on his wife’s car I can assume that future developments will include bigger intercoolers, temp-sensitive distilled water spray kits, and special heat-shields all designed to control temperatures under the hood. We also can’t rule out the possibility that there will be a surge in factory installed superchargers in years to come, especially since companies like Valeo have seen a 7-20% increase in fuel efficiency with its products, all while besting turbos in the torque department. But regardless of whether they opt for a supercharger or a turbocharger, most consumers will happily pay more for a powerful engine since that droll drive home desperately needs a boost of adrenaline.
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