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End of the V8 love affair

Leaner: The turbocharged Ford Explorer America concept vehicle.

Detroit turns on V8 engines in the wake of new fuel economy legislation

10 Jan 2008

WITHIN weeks of US President George Bush signing a bill to mandate lower fuel consumption by car makers, both Ford and General Motors have reacted with plans to reduce Americans’ love affair with V8 engines.

Last week GM announced that it had axed a new quad-cam V8 engine program and this week Ford outlined plans to replace hundreds of thousands of V8s with new turbocharged four and six-cylinder engines employing direct injection technology.

GM had previously announced it will cease production of Cadillac’s long-running 4.6-litre ‘Northstar’ V8 engine in 2010, but the proposed ‘Ultra V8’ replacement that was to have been produced from 2009 has now been binned. Instead, Cadillacs will be powered by direct-injection 3.6-litre V6 engines producing similar power with better economy.

Ford, meanwhile, said it will downsize 500,000 vehicles a year with a range of ‘EcoBoost’ engines by 2013 – starting with the flagship Lincoln MKS all-wheel-drive sedan in 2009.

The Lincoln MKS will be powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbo developing around 255kW of power and 462Nm of torque, which the company says will give it the performance of a V8 with the fuel consumption of a V6.

 center imageLeft: With direct injection, a precise amount of fuel is injected into the combustion chamber, producing a cooler, denser and more efficient charge.

Next up will be the all-new Ford Flex SUV, followed by a series of other new and existing models.

Of course, Detroit’s plans have been underway for some time, but it is not entirely coincidental that they are coming to fruition in the wake of President Bush signing off the latest CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Consumption) legislation on December 19.

Ford is even about to display a potential replacement for the big Explorer SUV in concept form at next week’s Detroit motor show that, instead of a gulping big V8, is fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

The Ford Explorer America not only showcases the new engine regime, boasting a 20 to 30 per cent economy improvement over a conventional V6 Explorer, but is 70kg lighter as a result of switching from a separate ladder-frame chassis to monocoque (or unitary) construction.

Nissan is believed to be considering a similar switch in construction for the next-generation Pathfinder.

Ford’s global product development chief, Derrick Kuzak, said that direct injection turbo petrol engines make more economic sense than hybrids or turbo-diesels, and are more appealing to consumers.

“EcoBoost is meaningful because it can be applied across a wide variety of engine types in a range of vehicles, from small cars to large trucks – and it’s affordable,” said Mr Kuzak.

“Compared with the current cost of diesel and hybrid technologies, customers in North America can expect to recoup their initial investment in a 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine through fuel savings in approximately 30 months. A diesel in North America will take an average of seven and a half years, while the cost of a hybrid will take nearly 12 years to recoup – given equivalent miles driven per year and fuel costs.

“We know that what will make the biggest difference is applying the right technology on volume vehicles that customers really want and value and can afford.

“EcoBoost puts an affordable technology within reach for millions of customers, and Ford’s systems approach adds up to a big idea that differentiates Ford’s sustainability strategy in the market.” Nevertheless, Mr Kuzak said that Ford is still developing plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for use in the longer term.

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