Battle of Big Iron
10 January 2005
While automakers are giving more attention to the green side of their line-ups, the competitive battle for high-power and performance continues unabated. The Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows in January were the venues for the announcement of a number of new production and concept power platforms, making it very clear that automakers continue to see bigger, more powerful engines as essential.
“Right now the drive for more and more power in cars is way larger than the drive for more and more hybrids,” said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, the top carmaker’s long-time design guru.
Though GM is behind the Japanese in rolling out hybrids in cars, it has an advantage with V-8s, Lutz said. —Reuters
That may not be the case much longer. Lexus (Toyota) joined GM and DaimlerChrysler in announcing 500 hp engines for various performance cars. The displacement of the Lexus engine (announced as part of the LF-A concept car) is less than 5.0 liters—significantly less than Dodge’s 8.3-liter engine and GM’s 7.0-liter counterpart.
The plot to the right charts the horsepower and engine displacement of seven major engine and car announcements from the shows this month. Being in the upper left corner is best—high power with small displacement. Roughly speaking, the larger the displacement, the more fuel the engine will burn. (This will be mitigated by engine management techniques such as cylinder and valve management, more finely controlled fuel injection and so on.)
Note the positioning of the three vendors on the 500 hp line. Note also that Toyota and GM occupy the upper-left position.
Doing the simple calculation of dividing horsepower by displacement produces this second chart to the right. You’ll see that both GM and Toyota now have reached the 100 hp/liter mark. Even Toyota’s current production V-8 for the Lexus GX 470 doesn’t compare badly with its US competition.
Now clearly, none of these engines are going to create a green vehicle. The Cadillac STS that uses the GM 4.4-liter, 400 hp engine gets less than 21 miles per gallon. The Lexus GX 470 with the 4.7-liter, 270 hp engine yields only approximately a meagre 17 mpg.
The safe haven for GM, Ford and Chrysler (big engines, big vehicles) is rapidly coming under assault by the Asian automakers. If Toyota can deliver a 500 hp production engine at 60% of the displacement of the 500 hp engine from DaimlerChrysler, it will also probably be relatively more fuel efficient. (Big emphasis on relatively.) The phrase Tom Stephens used in describing GM’s hybrid efforts—“guilt-free performance”—will play in this end of the market as well. Whether or not “guilt-free performance” is a beneficial concept is a separate discussion.
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