The V-8 engine, powerplant of choice for several generations of RVers and the public at large, may be going the way of leaded gasoline.
According to a report in Automotive News, a panel of experts speaking Tuesday (April 21) at the 2009 SAE World Congress believe that tightening emissions standards and volatile fuel prices could spell the end for a nearly century-old engine design that first piqued interest in a big way with the introduction of the Chevrolet overhead-valve V-8 in 1955.

At least one panelist, Mary Ann Wright, CEO of the Johnson Controls-Saft joint-venture battery company, referenced an April 17 ruling by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases endanger the public. The ruling is expected to lay the groundwork for further reductions in such emissions.
“You are going to see the discussion starting to shift to not only reducing fuel consumption but CO2,” Wright said.
As noted during the panel discussion, contemporary engine technology, combined with lighter-weight vehicles, improved vehicle aerodynamics and more efficient transmissions, would be able to effectively counteract the need for larger-displacement engines without adversely affecting acceleration and towing performance.

However, while speakers such as Don Kapp, Ford Motor Co.’s director of powertrain research and advanced engineering, extolled the virtues of such breakthrough technology as Ford’s EcoBoost – a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engine that produces 355 hp, about the same as a V-8 – no one apparently addressed the torque values of such designs. While V-8 engines are seldom used today in automobiles, they remain a cornerstone for light-truck sales due to the engine’s ability to create large amounts of torque – pulling power – at relatively low engine rpm. 
Developing technology wasn’t the only topic under discussion. According to Minoru Shinohara, a senior vice president at Nissan Motor Co., driver behavior is yet another factor in vehicle efficiency that needs to be addressed. Nissan is working on a number of in-car technologies aimed at improving feedback to the driver, including:

  • An accelerator pedal that pushes back slightly when speed is increased too much.
  • An Ecometer that keeps the driver informed about vehicle performance.
  • Carwings, a program that alerts drivers to traffic congestion along a computed route and selects alternative paths.

Other technologies presented included a chain-driven starter-alternator by supplier BorgWarner Inc. intended to eliminate fan belts. The company also is researching more efficient turbochargers and transmissions.
“Turbocharged engines offer 15% to 30% better fuel economy and as much as 20% reduction in CO2 emissions,” said Roger Wood, executive vice president of turbo and emissions systems for BorgWarner, in predicting that the use of turbochargers would grow by 135% by 2014. Meanwhile, Uwe Grebe, executive director for advanced engineering for General Motors Corp., suggested that smaller turbocharged engines could account for as much as 20% of the market by 2014. 
Ironically, Detroit automakers previously embraced turbocharging as a way of developing horsepower in smaller engines in the 1970s when Mideast oil embargos caused similar fuel cost spikes. But the technology was later abandoned in all but a few cases as fuel prices moderated.