Ford's EcoBoost technology uses turbocharging to increase the engine torque and power.  (Source: Ford)

Direct injection is also used in EcoBoost, to prevent the loss in compression ratio that turbocharging can cause. The direct injection is fine tuned and includes a cold start cycle. These precautions help prevent engine knock.  (Source: Ford)

The end result of this turbocharging + direct injection strategy are cars like the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, that gain 10 to 20 percent improvements in fuel economy without sacraficing performance. In many cases, EcoBoost V6 engines actually outperform V8 engines of competitors.  (Source: Jalopnik)
We get exclusive insight into how Ford was able to rush this technology to market so fast

It's no secret that Ford is excited about EcoBoost.  With the release of the 2010 Lincoln MKS/MKT, the 2010 Taurus SHO, and the 2010 Ford Flex, consumers are getting their first taste of EcoBoost.  And with Ford planning to have 90 percent of its domestic nameplates (80 percent internationally) offered with EcoBoost engines by 2014, along with production of 750,000 EcoBoost units a year (Ford sells over 5 million cars and light commercial vehicles yearly), it's also clear that it's confident that consumers will be too.

We caught up with Ford and were among an exclusive group of journalists who got a tour of the company's research and design center and a briefing on EcoBoost.  Two things quickly became apparent -- first, that Ford appears committed to departing from natural aspiration, and second that Ford believes that none of its competitors have as advanced testing and control systems as it does when it comes to direct injection and turbocharging. 

Looking at the first point -- the departure from natural aspiration -- it's important first to explain what natural aspiration is.  Every engine needs air to fuel its combustion.  In naturally aspirated engines, this air isn't forced into the engine by compressors, rather the intake simply relies on atmospheric pressure.

When designing more efficient engines one approach is simply to refine or redesign inefficient mechanical components (using technologies such as variable valve lift).  Thus far, Ford and others have largely taken this approach.  An alternative is to turn to turbocharging -- artificial aspiration via exhaust-driven compression of air -- to improve efficiencies.

If there's one thing that Ford made clear to us at the presentation, it's that it is turning from the former approach (natural aspiration) to the latter approach (turbocharging), and that it believes that eventually the majority of its consumer production will be of turbocharged models.  This is a different approach than its domestic competitors -- GM and Chrysler -- which are largely opting for refined natural aspiration, as well as exploring more exotic alternatives like gasoline compression engines.

The second major point of the presentation is that Ford strongly believes that it has unique technologies and testing assets that its competitors don't have.  In order to maintain the engine's compression ratio when turbocharging, Ford is employing direct injection of gasoline.  Direct injection, while improving compression and providing a torque gain offers its own unique challenges -- including engine knock.  In order to implement such a strategy and avoid such problems, complex tools are needed to model and design the engine.  Ford believes it has these tools, but its competitors do not.

States Ford's Don Kapp, Ford's Powertrain Research and Advanced Engineering Director, "We have developed world class design tools and methodology.  There are others out there doing DI and turbocharging [but] a lot's how you implement it."

Ford has unique internal tools to model how fuel sprays out of the injector.  Ford believes that it is the only automaker to have accurate, working models of fuel injection in three dimensions and fuel film formation and rippling on the piston surface.  Thanks to this CFD model, along with more traditional test technologies such as an optical engine (an engine you can see inside) and single cylinder engine, Ford was able to tune EcoBoost for awesome performance.  It also helped them address cold start issues by splitting injection into two separate pulses.

The end result of Ford's extensive testing and control systems development is 125 filed patent applications.  The number is one that Ford is particularly proud of, as it believes that the patents are representative of EcoBoost's revolutionary nature.  Ford representatives, in response to an audience question, also stated that Ford would be willing to work with other automakers to license EcoBoost and its supporting technologies, if they show interest.

One challenge that Ford still faces is managing emissions during cold start.  Current cold start technologies from Ford tend to significantly reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.  In order to meet U.S. emissions guidelines, Ford may be forced not to deploy its 1.6 L and 2.0 L EcoBoost engines domestically.

Still at the end of the day, Ford seems to be on the right path with EcoBoost.  Doubling torque/liter and offering 1/2 to 1/3 more power/liter Ford's 3.5 L V6 EcoBoost engine can outperform many V8 engines.  This is advantageous as smaller engines get better fuel economy (due to less friction) and cost less to produce.  The resulting engine can be tuned to be very powerful -- when pushed, the 3.5 L V6 EcoBoost engine can put out up to 500 hp for a "couple hours" if smog emissions are thrown out the window.

At the end of the day, though, the Ford EcoBoost engines instead pocket a 10 to 20 percent increase in fuel economy, while offering an impressive 365 hp.  And with EcoBoost variants coming soon to the Ford F150 (a 5.0 L EcoBoost engine is in the works), Ford appears to just be getting started.

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