Downsizing is set to stop, and engines could even start to increase in size again – because, bizarrely, that’s the only way to pass future emissions tests.
Oh, the irony. But don’t get too excited, because it’s likely that electrification will take a much bigger role instead of cranking up the cylinder count. Sadly, we’re still unlikely to see too many more V12s.
Reducing cubic capacity and making up the difference with turbocharging, a technique some manufacturers have only just gotten to grips, has already been exposed as a false economy, said experts at the recent Paris Motor Show.
We’ve all known it for ages, especially those of us tasked with driving the latest metal and seeing nothing but a downward trend in real-world miles-per-gallon, but this is the first time manufacturers have started to admit it themselves.
The EU’s NEDC efficiency test cycle has been quietly acknowledged as a disaster, having forced car makers to adopt techniques to score well on the test rather than on real roads. Renault’s 0.9-litre TCe petrol engine, for example, has to inject additional fuel into the cylinders to prevent overheating when it’s being used on faster roads, giving it the thirst of an alcoholic on St Patrick’s Day.
Manufacturers will need to turn to hybrid and electric car solutions to keep lowering their fleet average emissions in the wake of the forthcoming, ‘more representative’ emissions tests. That’s likely to mean more hybrid sports cars in the vein of the Porsche 918 Spyder, and fewer like the Ferrari F12tdf. We’re not really sure whether that’s good or bad news, so ask us again in 10 years.
The Reuters news agency quoted Alain Raposo, head of powertrain at the Renault-Nissan Alliance, as saying: “The techniques we’ve used to reduce engine capacities will no longer allow us to meet emissions standards. We’re reaching the limits of downsizing.”
VW is set to swap its 1.4-litre three-pot diesel for a 1.6-litre four, while Renault is going to replace its barely three-year-old 1.6-litre diesel with something closer to 1.8 litres.
Almost no one is willing to comment on specific engine plans, possibly because no one actually knows how they’re going to dig themselves out of this hole yet. The most frustrating thing for most manufacturers is that these fresh problems are the fault of European politicians, not their own miscalculations.
Mazda, whose ‘right-sizing’ policy sees it still producing a 2.2-litre diesel, is probably having a laugh at its rivals right about now. As must Toyota be, with a full range of hybrid models already on its dealer forecourts.