RAC Cars News


Internal combustion engine to motor on?

By raccars Published

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The popularity of the car has been truly astonishing and production has continued to rise through the 20th century and into the 21st. Total worldwide performance was 38 million in 1997 but almost doubled to 65 million by 2013. European and North American markets have slowed but the growth in developing markets like those of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) has more than made up for it. As the economy of these countries improves, a new and more affluent middle class is created and the car is a status symbol that epitomises their success.

Clearly then there is no threat to the car in terms of its popularity but this very success has created a threat to the all-conquering internal combustion engine. With around 830 million cars on the world’s roads, governments are growing concerned about the pollution they create and they are introducing ever more stringent regulations on emissions. The EU introduced a limit for CO2 emissions of 130g per kilometre, to be achieved by 2015. These limits looked to be extremely challenging for petrol and diesel cars and many observers suggested that hybrids or electric only vehicles were the only way forward. But the fact is that the motor industry has responded impressively. The 2015 limit of 130g/km was actually achieved by new cars in 2013.

The next target is 95g/km by 2021 and the British government has said that by 2040, it wants all new cars to be ‘ultra low emission,’ defined as emitting CO2 levels of less than 75g/km. These targets again sound challenging but the car industry now has a habit of meeting them and the death of the internal combustion engine may be some way off yet.

A great example of how far the internal combustion engine has come is that of the Ford Mondeo. This standard family car favourite has undergone a transformation since it arrived in 1992. Twenty years ago the Mondeo had a two litre petrol engine and was capable of 47mpg. Today, it has a one litre engine and can achieve 67mpg. Even more astonishingly, this EcoBoost engine is actually more powerful, both in terms of torque and horsepower, than that original engine. This is achieved by use of innovations like changing from four cylinders to three and introducing direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and a new cooling system that lets the engine warm up faster to improve efficiency.

With such gains in efficiency, the internal combustion engine may be around for a long time yet.

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