You may have noticed the odd – and entirely artificial – juxtaposition:
Cars have been getting bigger – and heavier – while engines have been getting smaller. It’s not uncommon to find engines in the 2.0 liter range in vehicles in the two ton range.
Why not appropriately sized engines – V6s and V8s – for these vehicles?
Larger, roomier – and heavier – vehicles continue to be very popular with buyers. So the car companies continue to build them. But Uncle insists (and decrees) that all vehicles must use less and less gas.
No matter what it takes – and no matter what it costs. Because the object isn’t really “saving gas.”
Uncle is opposed to what buyers want – and he’s been trying his best for decades to prevent the car companies from building what they want. He does this by attaching heavy fines to any cars that don’t meet mandatory MPG minimums – currently set at about 36 MPG – thus making them more and more expensive to buy, in order to discourage them from being built in the first place.
Note that the MPG minimums apply to all cars – even though there are cars that exceed the MPG minimums. It’s not enough for Uncle that cars are available that get very high gas mileage.
He insists cars that don’t become unavailable. Larger vehicles, stronger vehicles. More capable vehicles. Uncle wants everyone out of those – and into “efficient” – read, small – cars.
This doesn’t apply to Uncle, of course.
But the car companies did something sly – and laudable. They figured out how to meet Uncle’s MPG minimums – or at least, get close enough that the fines have remained manageable – without downsizing the vehicles or gimping their performance.
They downsized the engines, which resulted in their using less fuel.
But kept the power up by turbocharging them.
Off boost, a smaller engine uses less gas than a larger one. On boost, it can produce as much power as a larger engine.
This solved both problems.
The 2019 VW Golf I am test driving this week is the first new vehicle I’ve test-driven so far this year that comes standard with a smaller engine that’s also a less powerful engine.
And there’s no optional engine.
VW has pulled the previously standard 1.8 liter engine and replaced it with a 1.4 liter engine that makes 147 horsepower vs. the 1.8 liter’s 170 hp.
The cost to you, the prospective owner, is 23 horsepower less – and lower performance.
The wall has been hit. There is not much more that can be done to significantly increase MPGs without further engine downsizing – and de-powering.
Which will force downsizing of vehicles, as the engines lose the ability to pull them along with acceptable giddyup.
More boost might bridge the displacement gap, but the little engines in not-little new cars are already pressurized to 16-18 pounds, which puts a lot of stress on the internals. More boost applied to smaller engines would probably have dramatic consequences.
Today, family car engines are heavily turbocharged. In order to make a 3,800 pound family car with a four accelerate better than an ’84 Aries K-car.
This has been achieved – but not without cost. The turbo, intercooler (usually) and specialized exhaust system – aren’t free.
You pay extra for them . . . in order to save money on gas! Really, to counter the government’s determination to make you drive something smaller and weaker.
It costs you money – but you got the power and you didn’t have to drive the modern analog of an ’84 Aries K-car.
However, more boost applied to less displacement to maintain better-than-K-car power probably isn’t feasible. We would likely see a reversion of durability/longevity trends. Instead of new car engines routinely running largely trouble-free for 15 years or more and 150,000-plus miles, the’d probably begin spit parts like a fragmentation grenade by 75,000 miles.
Then again, this may be just what Uncle intends.
Cars last too long – especially relative to electric cars, which deteriorate quickly because of their batteries, which brick them both functionally and economically after about ten years and probably sooner, if driven every day.
This makes them seem unattractive to most people – especially when they know they could buy a non-electric car instead and drive it without spending much money on it for the next 12-15 years.
But Uncle is forcing electric cars onto the market via fatwas that mandate they be built – in quantity.
The fatwas regarding mandatory minimum MPGs serve exactly this purpose.
The car industry has performed near-miracles stymieing the best efforts of the government so far.
But the line could only be held for so long – because there are limits to what’s feasible from an engineering point-of-view as well as a warranty point-of-view.
Expect more – or rather, less – if the threatened near-doubling of the MPG mandatory minimums (and tripling of fines) isn’t derailed. There’s only so much that can be done to placate Uncle without disappointing buyers.
And Uncle’s got the guns to make sure he isn’t disappointed.
. . .
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