In late December, President Bush signed
into a law a new energy bill which will raise the Corporate Average Fuel
Economy (CAFE) average to 35 MPG by 2020. Some auto manufacturers balked at the
idea while the bill was under construction, but Detroit’s Big Three all
committed to complying with the new standard once it passed.
The first victims of the new energy bill are already
starting to show up just a month after the new energy bill passed.
General Motors announced that it cancelled
plans to build new versions of its Northstar V8 engine. GM's Northstar
engine was introduced in the 1990s and has been a staple in the engine bay of
high-end Cadillac luxury vehicles.
GM will instead rely on its direct-injection (DI) 3.6 liter
V6 engine to power its luxury vehicles. The DI V6 produces 304 HP in the CTS
compared to the 320 HP, 4.6 liter Northstar V8 engine used in the larger STS.
The V6 engine does, however, have a huge deficit in the area of torque when compared
to the current Northstar V8 -- the V6 produces just 273 lb-ft of torque while
the V8 delivers 315 lb-ft.
GM claims that the move to the DI V6 will not only improve
the fuel economy of its larger vehicles, but will also save weight across the
board -- the V6 is anywhere from 150 pounds to 200 pounds lighter than the
Another big loser in the midst of new CAFE regulations is
Chrysler’s Hemi engine. "The Hemi is not the powertrain of the
Chrysler co-president Jim Press. "It's the powertrain of today."
The Hemi engine will not be dropped entirely from the
Chrysler portfolio, but its role will be greatly diminished. The 5.7 liter V8
Hemi engine was recently upgraded for the 2009 Dodge Ram and now
produces 380 HP and 404 lb-ft of torque -- up from 345 HP and 375 lb-ft. Fuel
economy was also boosted by 4 percent and emissions were reduced compared to
the old Hemi engine.
Despite the upgraded power and improved fuel economy,
vehicles like the next generation Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 will likely
miss out on Hemi power. Instead, Chrysler is developing new "Phoenix"
high-output V6 engine to take the place of the Hemi. The engines will feature dual
overhead cams, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. Ranging-topping
variants are likely to surpass 300 HP, like its competitors, and provide better
fuel economy than its Hemi counterpart.
When it comes to actual vehicle platforms, General Motors is
already taking steps to comply with the update CAFE. The company originally planned
to resurrect the Pontiac GTO -- again -- using the same underpinnings as the
upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac G8. Those
plans are now shelved.
"I think (the Monaro/Pontiac GTO) is gone for
now," said GM's Bob Lutz. "We’ve got nothing in the product plan
right now like that. We’d like to have, but you can’t do everything."
GM was to also build the next generation Chevy Impala
using the same RWD platform. Those plans were also shelved and the next
generation Impala will continue to ride on a FWD platform.
Despite the killings that were mentioned above,
manufacturers are looking to new, more efficient powertrains to power their
vehicles into the future. All of the major manufacturers are looking to hybrid,
fuel cell and electric vehicles to boost fuel economy. Manufacturers, however,
are also looking towards an increased use of turbocharging and diesel
technology to boost economy.
Ford recently announced its "EcoBoost"
engine line which takes advantage of turbocharging. Its new 2.0 liter turbo four
produces an incredible 275 HP and 280 lb-ft of torque. The company's new 3.5
liter V6 produced a whopping 340 HP and 340 lb-ft thanks to turbocharging. Both
engines produce the power of a V6 and V8 engine respectively while achieving
greater fuel economy.
On the diesel front, General Motors will soon roll out a new
liter V8 Duramax diesel engine destined for its light-duty pickups and
SUVs. Toyota is following suit with a new
V8 diesel engine for its Tundra full-size pickup and Sequoia full-size SUV.
Honda is also prepared to make a 2.2 liter i-DETC diesel four cylinder engine
available in its 2009
Honda Accord and 2009
Acura TSX. A larger 3.5
liter V6 diesel will finds its way into the Honda Pilot, Honda Ridgeline
and Acura MDX.
The new CAFE regulations were a big wakeup call to all auto
manufacturers who sell vehicles in the U.S. It's great to see that
manufacturers are adept enough to evolve and adapt to give customers the power
they crave with increased fuel economy at the same time.