by Peter Lehner, Executive Director, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Conventional gasoline engines do a creditable job of making cars go, but they don’t do it very efficiently. In most cars on the road today, only about 4 out of every 20 gallons of gas actually move your car. Most of that high-priced fuel you’re buying is simply wasted by the engine. This waste effectively triples the price of gasoline.
Luckily, things are changing in the automotive world. Last week, the Obama Administration raised fuel economy standards to the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon — on average — by 2025. These new standards will save consumers $1.7 trillion at the gas pump, cut our oil imports by one-third, and cut carbon pollution from new cars in half.
They are also driving innovation. There are 57 fuel-efficient models available in showrooms today, up from 27 models in 2009. Some are hybrids, but many are retooled conventional gasoline engines.
Two decades ago, car enthusiasts associated fuel efficiency with tiny cars and zero horse power, but new breakthroughs mean drivers don’t have to sacrifice performance. Muscle cars and luxury sedans are alive and well and better than ever, thanks to innovative engine technologies that allow smaller, fuel efficient engines to act like big, powerful gas guzzlers.
BMW’s 3-series, for example, uses technologies such as direct fuel injection, turbochargers and variable valve timing, as well as a stop-start system that cuts the engine at stoplights, to achieve a 36-mpg rating. The 328i gets 240 horsepower — or possibly more —out of a tiny 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine. That’s 10 more horsepower than last year’s 6-cylinder engine. The car goes from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds.
“A car of that size and performance would be something 10 years ago that was unthinkable,” Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW North America told Bloomberg News.
New Ford Mustangs, perhaps the classic muscle cars, feature a 305 horsepower V6 engine, and an impressive 31 mpg highway rating. That’s more power and better fuel efficiency than the former V8 models. Better still, says Ron Cogan, editor of Cars of Change, is that the thing sounds like a big V8. “To be able to deliver that kind of excitement for the driver, all the visual cues, the sound, the feel — and fuel efficiency — that’s a win-win,” says Cogan. “There is a big market of people who want fuel efficiency but don’t want to give up performance.”
Improvements in valve operation and timing control allowed Ford to get better power and torque out of a smaller engine. Ford also offers a twin turbo-charged 3.5 liter V6 Ecoboost engine on its popular F150, a full-sized pickup truck. The V6, offering better power and better mileage, outsold the V8 option last year.
Smaller engines are delivering big performance, with better mileage than anyone could have dreamed. Car enthusiasts, stay tuned. It’s going to keep getting better.
This is part of NRDC’s Wasteland series, featuring people, towns, businesses and industries that are finding innovative ways to cut waste, boost efficiency and save money, time and valuable resources.
Photo credit: Akbar Simonse