only in Europe, greenhouse gas issues will have a big impact also in
the United States. Although the federal government led by President
Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol and opposed to any drastic
measures which could harm the interests of auto makers, many states are
going the other way. Among them, California is the key motivator to cut
greenhouse gas emission. Three years ago, California set a regulation
that auto makers must start implementing measures to cut CO2 emission
from 2009, and by 2016 the emission level of cars and trucks should be
reduced by 25 percent and 18 percent respectively. Later on, the
California regulation was adopted by 9 more states – Vermont,
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode
Island and Washington. Arizona, Maryland and New Mexico are also
considering to join the list. Obviously, controlling automobile
emission has become a worldwide trend.
So, what should car makers do ?
The answer is to develop cars which use energy more efficiently. We can
improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines and transmission
systems. We can reduce the energy consumption of peripherals and
equipment. We can recapture energy from braking. We can make our cars
lighter and more aerodynamic efficient. We can use hydrogen instead of
petroleum so that the only by-product will be water. There are plenty
of technologies lying in front of us, but what we are more interested
is how feasible they are and how they are going to change our cars in
Unquestionably, small cars will be less influenced by the legislation
against emission because of their inherently lower emission. Today we
have plenty of mini cars meeting the EU emission target of 130g /km.
Tomorrow the C-segment cars - the most popular segment in Europe which
includes Volkswagen Golf, Opel Astra and Ford Focus – will also be able
to meet the target by continuous improvement of conventional
technologies. The recently facelifted BMW 120d is a good example. It
employs advanced direct fuel injection (with piezo injectors and higher
pressure), on-demand oil / water pumps, electric steering, automatic
start-stop system and regenerative braking to achieve 129g /km, which
is an improvement of 15 percent from the previous car. BMW demonstrated
that you don’t always need revolutionary and costly technologies to
achieve a sizable improvement.
However, petrol version of C-segment cars will be more difficult to
approach the target of 130g /km. The BMW 120i, for instance, produces
152g /km even though it employs the latest direct injection technology
(also with piezo injectors). Petrol engines generally produces 20
percent or so more emission than diesel engines with comparable
performance. This make them harder to survive in the future.
Nevertheless, petrol engines are lighter and less costly to build than
diesel engines, therefore they are still appealing to small cars. To
reduce emission, the recent trend is to downsize the petrol engines and
compensate with turbocharging. The new Fiat Bravo is an example. It
skips conventional 1.6 to 2.0-liter engines and replaces them with a
turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. This is also a cost-effective solution
because the engine is based on the naturally aspirated 1.4-liter unit,
thus Fiat no longer needs to build two four-cylinder engine families.
Petrol engines will continue to survive in small cars and high
performance cars, but they are going to have no future for medium size
cars upward. To meet emission targets or to avoid heavy tax penalties,
larger cars will have to switch to either diesel power, hybrid-petrol
or hybrid-diesel power in the next 5 to 10 years. This is why German
car makers promote Bluetec diesel technology so hard in Europe and
North America. This is also why Mercedes and BMW joined GM to develop
2-mode hybrid system. The German is well prepared for the challenge.
Toyota is the leader in hybrid technology. This is the result of over
30 years of research and development. While other rivals saw no
commercial incentives in developing hybrid, Toyota persisted in the
technology and finally got return in the second generation Prius.
Hybrid powertrain is still too expensive to small cars, therefore
Toyota has shifted its focus to larger cars such as Estima MPV, Camry,
Lexus GS, LS and RX. The strategy is to use a four-cylinder hybrid to
replace a V6, a V6 hybrid to replace a V8 and a V8 hybrid to replace a
V12. This ensure the hybrid cars to return considerably lower fuel
consumption and emission compare with class rivals with comparable
performance. Until now, hybrid cars still contribute to a small portion
of Toyota’s annual sales. However, once EU and the states of USA
started tightening emission standards, Toyota will be a big winner in
In longer term, say, 10-15 years later, the trend could shift to
“plug-in hybrid”, as demonstrated by GM’s Chevrolet Volt concept car.
Plug-in hybrid allows cars to work as a pure zero-emission electric
cars for short ranges (say, to travel between home and workplace), or
use the on-board charging system to extend ranges. The charging system
could be a very small and efficient internal combustion engine which
only needs to work at constant rev to charge up the battery, or even
hydrogen fuel cells. Plug-in hybrid is even more energy efficient than
the hybrid technology Toyota holds today.
Of course, the ultimate solutions will be hydrogen engines or hydrogen
fuel cells. However, considering the substantial infrastructure it
takes to build hydrogen plants and refueling stations, hydrogen power
is unlikely to be become popular until at least 15 years later.
That may be too long to forecast. Next part, we are going to see how
our cars will look like in the future. Will our cars sacrifice driving
pleasure in exchange for higher energy efficiency ?