Ford 1-litre 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine and an appreciative CEO

Ford 1-litre 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine and an appreciative CEO

The key driver behind growing turbocharger use is the increasingly tough set of emissions rules which are deployed not just in developed markets but increasingly in developing markets too; turbochargers represent just one of the several technologies which the industry is using to reduce emissions.  In this month's management briefing we bring you selected extracts from just-auto QUBE's research service, Global light vehicle turbochargers market 2008 to 2028.

Turbochargers – what they do and how they do it

In very simple terms, a turbocharger is a device fitted to either a petrol or diesel engine which increases the power output of the engine by pressure charging the inlet manifold, increasing the volumetric efficiency of the engine. The air induction compressor part of this device is powered by a radial turbine which is in turn driven by engine exhaust – hence the origin of the term ‘turbo’.

This is not a new technology per se and in fact dates back to the 1910s when the technology was first applied to fighter aircraft. The first significant development of turbochargers for automotive use was in the 1960s at Garrett and KKK (both still present in the market today as Honeywell and BorgWarner respectively). In 1973, the first turbocharged Porsche 911 appeared and this was soon followed by a Saab turbo. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the technology remained something of a niche product, fitted to a small number of high performance vehicles at an OE level, as well as in the aftermarket. For a while in the 1980s the technology was used in Formula 1 racing but was outlawed and later fell out of favour.

However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, turbocharged diesel engines began to appear; by this time, turbochargers had been recognised as a means to improve both the emissions rating and all-round performance of diesel engines. As emissions rules have become tougher and tougher in recent years, the advantages of turbocharging in helping to reduce vehicle emissions have been accepted in the petrol engine segment of the market as well. As a result of this, and in conjunction with other engine improvements, turbocharger use accelerated rapidly, especially in Europe and, more recently, North America.

Turbochargers offer one of the main routes to reducing CO2 emissions. In a paper presented at the 2010 IQPC conference, Magna Steyr’s Powertrain division said that engine downsizing, accompanied by turbocharger fitment, could generate between 5-20% improvements in CO2 emissions. Hybrids, in one form or another, could contribute something similar, while the use of E85 fuel can, apparently, cut CO2 emissions by 4%. Other technologies, such as start-stop or improvements to transmissions would each generate between 1-3% in terms of CO2 reductions. The importance of turbochargers is clear and the rapid take-up of turbochargers in North America, where the pressure to cut fuel consumption and emissions is rising, understandable.

Turbochargers reduce CO2 emissions by improving engine efficiency.  As Magna noted, of 100% of the power output from an internal combustion engine, only 22% is translated into effective power for moving the vehicle; 78% of the power output is typically lost, 35% in exhaust heat, 30% in general heat loss and the balance by friction and gas exchange.  Improving thermal losses, and indeed utilising the thermal energy, are seen by many as being the next step in improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine.   

Emissions reduction

The key driver behind growing turbocharger use is the increasingly tough set of emissions rules which are deployed not just in developed markets but increasingly in developing markets too; turbochargers represent just one of the several technologies which the industry is using to reduce emissions. According to BorgWarner, the impact of fitting a turbocharger is that a vehicle’s emissions can be reduced by between 15-30%; this is clearly significant, but it should not be forgotten that other engine technologies help in this regard. For example, and again according to BorgWarner, improvements in fuel economy of 5-15% can be achieved through the use of Dual Clutch Transmissions, while Cam Phasers can cut emissions by a further 5%. Other technologies employed by the vehicle companies to reduce emissions include electric power steering, stop-start systems, hybrids of various forms and variable valve time and variable valve lift systems.

The second principal driver behind the increased use of turbochargers is engine downsizing, although this is really a consequence of the emissions rules referred to above. Issues such as taxation, sales incentives and related financial issues have only a marginal impact on turbocharger take-up. 

CAFE rules and the prospects for turbos in North America 

Suppliers can be justifiably optimistic regarding the prospects for turbochargers in North America.  It sees the increasing adoption of turbo technology in the US as driven by a combination of the tighter CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) rules and a changing mindset amongst American consumers.  US consumers increasingly recognise the benefits of turbos in offering them enhanced fuel economy and improved driving responsiveness in their cars. 

In the short term, we expect turbo fitment in North America to climbe well over 20%, rising to beyond 30% by the end of the decade.  Ultimately, however, we and indeed the industry as a whole, expects a NAFTA fitment rate over 60% by the early 2020s.

Engine downsizing

Engine downsizing is a driver of rising turbocharger use. Downsizing of engines is something which has always been a potential technique for vehicle companies to reduce fuel consumption. Engine downsizing has been equated with reduced engine power, so going down this route has run counter to historic consumer preferences for more powerful engines and enhanced vehicle performance. However, rising environmental concerns, the constant rise in the price of fuel, the perception or fear that fuel shortages will not be far away and an increasingly tough regulatory environment have actually led to a reversal in opinion both in the industry and amongst consumers regarding the benefits of engine downsizing. The fact that turbochargers have come to be recognised as a solution to reducing engine size and cutting emissions, while still allowing engine power to be retained, is a key factor behind increased turbocharger use. In simple terms, combining downsized engines with a turbocharger means that smaller capacity engines can retain the power output of larger naturally-aspirated  engines, maintaining engine performance while also cutting emissions and fuel costs.

Honeywell expects engines of 1.7 litre size or smaller to account for 40% of the market by the middle of the next decade; put another way, Honeywell expects the decade will see the average engine size in the US fall from 3.6 litres to 2.9 litres and will be accompanied by a progressive switch from V8 and V6 engines to 4-cylinder units. Ford has been surprised by the success of its turbo-charged F-150 with the Ecoboost V6; hitherto most of its customers wanted V8 power and Ford had doubted they would quickly switch to the smaller engines.  However by mid 2011, sales of the V6 version  were already exceeding sales of the V8 naturally aspirated units – the V6s accounted for 55% of sales during that period, with the Ecoboost V6 accounting for most of these. Interestingly this has been achieved despite the V6 costing the same or even more than the V8 – consumers have been prepared to pay for fuel efficiency.

The latest generation Chevrolet Malibu has a wider range of new engines to help its differentiation in the very crowded North American market for mid-sized sedans.  The first of these new engine programmes was offered from Q1/2012 and will eventually include a new 2.0 litre turbo engine.  This will give Malibu customers the kind of power for which they would have bought a V6 in the past.  The only other US model in the size range to offer a turbo option is the Hyundai Sonata, although turbo version of Ford’s Fusion, Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Toyota’s Camry and Volkswagen’s Passat will not be far away in North America – turbo versions of the Passat are already common place in Europe.

Ford’s EcoBoost engines at the centre of its European strategy 

Ford announced a major new model programme for Europe just ahead of the Paris motor show in September-October 2012; this followed on from some very disappointing results for H1 for Europe.  The company is expecting to lose around US$1bn in Europe in 2012 and so success for its new model programme is essential.

At the heart of the new model programme (which involves more vehicles from Ford North America coming to Europe than have done in the past) is the EcoBoost engine; more specifically, Ford plans to launched no less than 15 “best-in-class” fuel-efficient vehicles by the end of 2012. more will follow in 2013 when one of the most interesting highlights in this programme will be the new Mondeo which is due to be the largest vehicle powered by the small 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine; this engine will have been launched in the Fiesta, B-Max, Focus and C-Max by then, but its offering in the Mondeo will certainly test consumer perception about the link between engine capacity and vehicle size.

In many ways, Ford’s EcoBoost strategy is one of (perhaps the) best example of extreme engine downsizing to date; the wider adoption of EcoBoost engines is essential for Ford to meet European CO2 targets over the next decade.  The 1.0 litre engine has been a success on the models on which it has already been launched; for example, in the first few months since its launch in April 2012, more than a quarter of Focus buyers have specified this small new engine.

The turbochargers for the 1.0 litre EcoBoost come from Continental, one of the first of this new entrant’s highly significant new turbochargers; this turbocharger has been subject to extensive work to optimise its thermodynamics; according to Continental, the turbocharger’s exhaust flow rates at the very high rate of 240,000 rpm; it uses a waste gate valve to prevent the charge pressure form increasing excessively at high engine output.  The new Continental turbocharger has been designed for small engines in particular, but Continental says the technology is scalable and can be adapted to larger engines in future.