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Engines - Power for the Future
Thom Cannell

Pick a trendy technology: methanol or gasoline powered fuel cell, electric battery power. Popular media makes them appear mere moments away from pushing familiar gasoline or diesel engines onto the scrap heap.

This buzz, this hype, this insider information is exhaust gas of a different nature. The truth is, short of outright legislative bans, the internal combustion (IC) engine will power most vehicles, worldwide, for the next 10 or probably 20-plus years.

Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) are surely the future. The question is, when will they be affordable. With low cost (especially in the U.S.), diesel and gasoline fuels and an
established delivery system, the massive cost of an alternative fuel delivery infrastructure raises legitimate questions of AFV's near-term acceptance.

Top Down Directives

During the first decade of the new millennium, only one thing is written in stone: Governmental regulations over automotive emissions and fuel economy will get tighter -- a battle currently being waged in Congress.

It's accepted that in industrialized countries, vehicles produce half the smog-producing emissions, almost all the carbon monoxide, 25 percent of particulates and 50 percent of toxic pollutants, according to PricewaterhousCooper' Autofacts Group.

Other near-certainties: Vehicles will be lighter, substantially more fuel efficient, more easily recycled and cost more. Fuels will be cleaner with less sulfur content, perhaps syhthetic.
Alternative fuel vehicles, like electric, fuel-cell powered vehicles, and hybrids combining IC and electric propulsion may comprise half of sales in 2020. Until that future arrives, the internal combustion engine remains dominant. But engines, either diesel or gasoline, surely will be different.

Like bread crumbs, the trail of hot technology leads to industry magazine Ward's Auto World and its annual collection of 10 Best Engines Awards. Admittedly the average North American prefers V-8 engines in big vehicles. Despite this statistical skew, Wards has rewarded the best technologies, and these trends and tricks have provided clues for the next century.

Practical Victories

General Motors earns accolades for its DOHC engines as well as the "antique technology" all-aluminum, "drive-by-wire" throttle LS-1 OHV Corvette engine. It possesses explosive torque, power and great fuel economy in a small package, GM's OHV technology is an inexpensive, torquey, durable and continues in next-generation V-6s. GM's latest DOHC engines use aluminum blocks and, like Mercedes and Ford, they are modular: their 90 "V" angle accommodates V-8s and V-6s. GM V-6s use balance shafts - as does Mercedes' new 3.2 liter V-6.

Two nice tricks: placing the engine controller in the path of cool intake air and an old-style replaceable oil filter cartridge inside a permanent canister.

Ford's (North American) Duratec 2.5 liter DOHC V-6 uses the Extrude honing process of forcing a silicone liquid full of carbide grit through intake manifolds and intake ports to smooth air flow. Ford's truck engines, all SOHC, set a standard for smoothness and power at upper RPM rivaled only by the latest Toyota 4.7 L V-8s found in the 2000 Tundra pickup and full size Lexus LX470 and Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs.

DaimlerChrysler's latest Mercedes modular 4.3 liter V-8 and 3.2 liter V-6 three-valve engines demonstrate how fewer valves can provide quicker catalytic converter "light off" from a single exhaust valve and continuous high-temperature exhaust stream. Twin spark plugs fire together at idle and low speeds,then stagger sparks at higher speeds for more complete combustion.

Nissan's VQ 3 Liter is the current benchmark for smoothness and power. There's no tricks, just a classic DOHC with microfinished major internal engine parts and a lightened
friction-reduced valve train. Do it right and it IS right.

Ward's likes the benefits of variable value timing as do
Honda, BMW, Ford, Mazda, Toyota and Lexus. Another interest is in forced induction, although the extra cost is an issue. They praise VW's 1.8 Liter DOHC, Mazda's supercharged Miller-cycle DOHC V-6, Volvo's turbocharged 2.5 liter in-line 5-cylinder.

If there's a surprise, it's how both reward and achievement focus on core technology not weird science.

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