Now Ford schools GM

The announcements are coming fast and furious.  Ford has previewed a 1-liter, 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine for the Ford Start Concept, and announced production intent.  This engine has gasoline direct injection (GDI), turbocharging and a 10:1 geometric compression ratio.  The power is “comparable to a normally aspirated, 1.6-litre I4 powerplant“.  Parts count is of course reduced, and so are friction and pumping losses.  This engine is small, efficient, potent, and (to this engineer) elegant.

I used to drive a Dodge Daytona Turbo II.  The 2.2 liter intercooled Chrysler had only 8.5:1 static compression, and required premium fuel to boot.  Even so, it was very quick once the turbo spooled up.  What that thing could have done with 10:1 compression and the cooling effect from direct injection is scary to contemplate.  A 1-liter turbo GDI engine in a suitably light car should have very satisfactory zoom.

I expect that Ford is going to sell a lot of those things, mostly in emerging markets.  There are on the order of a billion people with the wealth to afford cars for the first time, and they are going to be able to out-bid marginal American drivers with 16-MPG pickups and SUVs.  This means that the world price of oil isn’t going down any time soon.  It also means that the USA’s drivers can either buy 1-liter engines too, or be unable to afford to drive to work solo any more.

GM has gone with a stock 1.4 liter I-4 as the sustainer for the Volt.  This decision looks more and more backward every day.  The weight of this engine no doubt forces design compromises in the vehicle, and the full power is almost never going to be required.  Cutting the 4-banger in half, adding GDI and intercooled turbocharger, boosting compression and shifting the valve timing to go to a Miller cycle would slash weight and increase efficiency.  Vibration would increase, but a sustainer engine doesn’t need direct mechanical coupling to the drivetrain; compliant engine mounts could soak that up even without a balance shaft.  This is the road not taken.

Ford’s decisions are looking better all the time.  The Fusion hybrid is already beating 40 MPG on the city cycle.  Putting the 1-liter Ecoboost 3-banger in it would cut weight and improve the fuel efficiency in all cycles, especially highway.  As for GM?  Government Motors looks to go the way of government cheese.


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