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
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.