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I just spent a day at Ford's proving grounds driving a number of vehicles that use Eco-boost technology, which is the centerpiece of the company's strategy to improve fuel economy. I wish I could tell you more about my driving impressions of these Fords, but all that information is embargoed for now. What I can say is that the Eco-boost technology works impressively well.
However, while the technology works well, I wonder how well Ford's strategy will work. That's because this technology does not really improve the fuel economy of an engine. It merely allows the company to use a smaller engine in place a bigger one. And sure enough, across almost the entire rev-range, an Eco-boost engine produces more torque than naturally aspirated engines that are at least one liter larger.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers. Follow the jump to continue reading this week's editorial.

For example, on a future F-150, Ford will offer a standard naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 or the same engine with optional Eco-boost technology. The Eco-boost version will replace the 5.4L Triton V8 and though it produces better torque and fuel economy than the V8, at best it will get the same fuel economy as the base V6.

So while Ford will have a better fuel economy average for its fleet, those customers who are purely looking for better fuel economy are going to have to keep on looking. In other words, don't expect an F-150 that gets, say, 30 mpg. Not at this stage.

And the same goes for the other vehicles that I got to drive. There was a Lincoln MKS with an optional 3.5L V6 Eco-boost in place of a V8, and a Fusion with a 1.6L Eco-boost engine in place of the 3.0L V6 2.5L four-cylinder (an Eco-boost 2.0L would replace a 3.0L V6). For customers who are not willing to trade off performance, the Eco-Boost system is a great package. But for those who are strictly after fuel economy, it doesn't do a lot. And as we all know, customers (at this snapshot in time) are screaming for fuel economy!

Eco-boost is Ford's name for using direct fuel injection and turbocharging with 6-speed DCT transmissions. A key benefit of direct injection is that it cools the charge in combustion chamber, and that in turn allows the compression ratio to be higher. Higher compression ratios, of course, translate instantly into more power and fuel economy. Typically, automakers have to lower the compression ratio with turbocharged engines to avoid detonation. Ford is running a 10:1 compression ratio in its 3.5L V6 Eco-boost engine, which is a pretty good number, especially considering that all the V engines with Eco-boost get twin turbos. And to make sure it gets long life out of the turbos, they are water cooled.

Of course, other automakers such as Audi and Mazda already use direct injection, turbocharged gas engines with 6-speeds. Even Dongfeng in China is pursuing the same technology. It just didn't occur to them to give it an ecological brand name like Ford has.

But Ford is not relying solely on Eco-boost technology to boost its fuel economy. Over the next decade it plans to trim the weight of its vehicles anywhere from 250 to 750 pounds. It will adopt electric power steering almost across the board. It will install "smart alternators" that only charge the battery when needed. It will use its own patented stop/start technology. It's going to come out with smaller cars. And all its future vehicles will be more aerodynamic.

It's a very conservative and cautious strategy, but it definitely is going to boost Ford's corporate fuel economy. Indeed, this is precisely how the company planned to meet the new 35 mpg CAFE standards for 2020. The only problem is, just weeks ago the Bush Administration suddenly and unexpectedly rushed the fuel economy standards up to 2015. On a sales-weighted basis, every automaker's car fleet will have to average 35.7 mpg by then, trucks 28.6 mpg.

Remember, all the 2010 models are already in the pipeline. It's too late to make any major changes to them. That means from 2011 to 2015 automakers will have to raise the average fuel economy of their cars by 8 mpg and their trucks by 5 mpg. In 5 years? I don't think so.

The problem the automakers face with these new CAFE standards is not a technological one. The technology is there. No, this is a customer affordability/capital investment/tooling time/mass production problem. Personally, I don't see how any of the car companies are going to do it by 2015. But that's another story for another day.

Read more about CAFE standards over at John's Journal on Autolinedetroit.tv.

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  • 22 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      The current model f-150 gained hundreds of pounds over the one that debued in 97-they need to be a little more rational in design and not just make them constantly bigger,heavier and more macho.The smaller turboed engine is all the rage in europe but I think that it is an expensive solution.Design an f-150 that is lighter than the 97,give it the 4.2 v-6 with direct injection and 220 h.p. It would perform like the v-8 does now and get better milage-also the 97 was more aero-give up the mack truck looks to save some gas when cruising.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hey, any changes that result in better overall fleet fuel economy is a good thing, no?
      • 7 Years Ago
      So they toss all the Mazda turbo FWD parts in the front of a Fusion and it becomes "Eco Boost"?
      • 7 Years Ago
      why can't we use a hybrid system for the eco-boost?
      the hybrid drivetrain could be used in times when extra power is needed.

      boost the power when needed, but limit it all other times.
      a 4 cyl making 140 hp, boosted by a regenerative system could get those shots of 30-40 hp when needed... perhaps a capacitor to store that burst of energy, it could even be trickle-charged by the alternator perhaps
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think what's confusing about this article is that the author is mixing up improving the mileage of an engine (which eco-boost doesn't help with), vs. improving the mileage of a vehicle or fleet (which eco-boost will do, assuming you add eco-boost to existing engines or smaller engines).
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Over the next decade it plans to trim the weight of its vehicles anywhere from 250 to 750 pounds."

      That's the part that really interests me. I'd love to see the weight go down on a lot of models. That alone would significantly increase fuel mileage and performance.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Because of lower frictional losses, EcoBoost engines should have improved fuel economy over larger naturally aspirated engines of similar peak output IF AND WHEN THE DRIVERS KEEP OFF THE BOOST!

      Moreover, the torque curve should permit EcoBoost engines to "make power" at lower RPM (although BSFC could be higher if FoMoCo cuts the compression/expansion ratio too much or overdoes it with using excess fuel to "aftercool" the combustion chambers. )

      Given that full-throttle "hooning" is usually no more than 3-5% of motoring, EcoBoost engines should yield some fuel economy benefits during the other 97-95% of the time.

      Of course, all of this "give up" whining about fours and sixes and CAFE is dispiriting to us DIEHARD V8 buyers! (Just as in Europe, some of us will want V8s even if fuel is over $6/gal.)

      How are they going to sell a Shelby Mustang (or a even credible Mustang GT, for that matter) with a "buzzin' half-dozen" EcoBoost V6?

      Henry Ford hated sixes and so do many of his "disciples." Since 1932, Ford has offered optional V8 power and some of us will quit Ford if they can all of the V8s. EcoBoost and the heavy hand of CAFE should not kill that storied tradition.

      Give us a choice of an ECOBOOST V8 (Has any American manufacturer EVER produced a state-of-the-art turbo V8? Of course not.)

      We want an ECOBOOST V8 before the power-grabbing anti-C02 nuts force us all into souless, sub-Prius wimp-mobiles (or mass transit)!

      Speedzzter suggests (http://speedzzter.blogspot.com/2008/05/could-click-and-clack-tm-be-partly.html):

      1. An EcoBoost (tm) (or EcoBoost "twincharged") DOHC V8 . . . .

      [NOT A V6 or an I4! A glorious DOHC VEE-EIGHT!

      Note: the number of cylinders is MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SIZE OF THEM -- a V6 of equal output simply can never, ever be a substitute for visceral and aural appeal of a V8 (and the dustbin of performance car history is littered with failed and almost forgotten non-V8 models, such as the Plymouth Prowler, a whole host of 1980s Chrysler turbo cars, the Thunderbird Super Coupe and the Mustang SVO.) Fewer than the traditional EIGHT HOLES always prompts the "what if" question . . . . ];

      2. An Ethanol Boosting Systems-style direct ethanol injection system (http://www.ethanolboost.com/);

      3. A John Coletti "SuperCooler" intercooler (http://www.automobilemag.com/auto_shows/04detroit/0301_2004_ford_lightning/index.html);

      4. Variable cam lift and phasing on the intake AND exhaust cams;

      5. A variable geometry intake manifold (not that lousy, “no-runner length” power-loser that's stock on the Shelby GT500 and which costs 70+ horsepower at certain engine speeds due to an obvious lack of inertia “ram” tuning);

      6. Cylinder deactivation (a/k/a "Displacement on Demand" (tm) or "Active Fuel Management (tm);" and

      7. BONUS (if Ford really wants to balance high performance and better fuel economy): a 50+kw parallel hybrid electric "booster" motor!

      How about it, Ford? Is there another legendary V8 (the EcoBoost DOHC V8) waiting to be born?


      • 7 Years Ago
      Clearly, the use of the term "Econo-boost" is a great PR move and PR is important in this industry.

      It's also a quick way to improve the "average" mileage of vehicles they already manufacture.

      I'd much rather have a 3.5 litre econo-boost engine in a Mustang GT that gives 50 more hp, 2 more miles/gallon, and weighs 150 less lbs. than the current 4.6 litre V8. In my opinion, the econo-boost Mustang GT will also compete favorably against the Hemi Challengers and V8 Camaros.

      Econoboost has it's place. A Mustang GT clearly is not a Honda Fit, or Toyota Prius competitor, and I hope we don't get to the situation that fuel economy is the only important criteria of an automobile

      Clearly, Ford needs to develop a 40-50 mpg car to compete with Prius and help with the CAFE average, and Econo-boost will not get them there. This won't be a Mustang or Ford Explorer. In my opinion, Ford's work with hybrid and plug-in hybrids will be the avenue for these vehicles.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I am sorry John I do not understand your logic.
      Quote
      ... at best it will get the same fuel economy as the base V6....
      Unquote

      Did anyone ever think a boosted (turbo w diect injection) V6 would give "better" mileage than the same sized NA engine? Not me. I expected more torque and HP and thereby more performance on the road, in return for similar highway cruising mileage.
      In the same way I do not expect the current big V8 engine which shuts down to 4 cylinders on a highway to give 30+ mpg.

      Isn't the whole and only point, as you later note, that the turboed direct injection gives V8 performance w/o sacrificing mileage over a NA V6?

      Also I wonder if and when Ford will link this new engine to a hybrid electric motor to further improve mileage in city driving....?
        • 7 Years Ago
        As an aside I see the type of vehicle I am looking for in the 2010 Saturn Vue Green Line. The one with a V6 engine and electrical hybrid motor. It's rumored to give something in the 30-34 mpg range with top of the line performance, as the V6 alone must give around 260 HP.
        The GM hybrid moves and Ford's econoengine (whatever they now call it) are decided turns for the better. In fact so much so that they appear to have the Japanese and Germans going in the wrong direction. Finally I am really getting bullish on the US car manufacturers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        John, your argument makes no sense because it's based on a false premise:

        "... those customers who are purely looking for better fuel economy are going to have to keep on looking."

        There are no such customers. Fuel economy exists within the context of other needs and wants for all car buyers, regardless of how much priority is placed on fuel economy. In other words, the car buyer you're thinking of wants better fuel economy while meeting minimum requirements w.r.t convenience, number of passengers, cargo volume, performance, etc. If the only desire is to maximize fuel economy, they would simply walk, cycle or use public transportation.

        Eco-Boost provides better fuel economy while meeting those other requirements.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It is kinda confusing since the Fusion example was 1. L (maybe that is 1.0 or 1.x) but I think what he is saying for the most part is that instead of having a 3.5L normal with a 3.5L eco-boost as options for one model it will be 3.5L normal and 5.4L eco-boost are your two options for a given model as an example. Which means that your 5.4L eco-boost will give fuel economy of the 3.5L normal so if you don't care about performance you are at best getting the 3.5L normal engine fuel economy with either engine choice. He is saying, "where is the 3.5L eco-boost or smaller option eco-boost for that same model for those who only care about fuel savings?"

        If the Fusion does come out with a 1. L then that isn't all true what he says but I guess he means it would be nice across the board to offer smaller liter eco-boost than they are going to offer.

        I think it comes down to the customer in Ford's thinking. Most people aren't going to pay more for a 2.5L eco-boost (even if it eats less gas and has the 3.5L normal performance but the technology costs more) than they do for the 3.5L normal engine. Ford must think that too many people equate, with no exceptions, that pricier must always mean bigger.
        • 7 Years Ago
        John, your argument makes no sense because it's based on a false premise:

        "... those customers who are purely looking for better fuel economy are going to have to keep on looking."

        There are no such customers. Fuel economy exists within the context of other needs and wants for all car buyers, regardless of how much priority is placed on fuel economy. In other words, the car buyer you're thinking of wants better fuel economy while meeting minimum requirements w.r.t convenience, number of passengers, cargo volume, performance, etc. If the only desire is to maximize fuel economy, they would simply walk, cycle or use public transportation.

        Eco-Boost provides better fuel economy while meeting those other requirements.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Lithous, I think you're misunderstanding things. I don't know the exact number (I think it was around 1.6 +/- 0.2 L), but the ~1.6L EcoBoost I4 Fusion will get approximately I4 fuel economy with similar fuel economy to the 3.0L V6 that the Fusion currently offers.

        I used to work at Ford, and though I don't anymore, my best guess is that the 2010 Fusion will offer the new 2.5L I4, a refreshed 3.0L V6 (both discussed here in the past), and this ~1.6L EcoBoost I4. The EcoBoost one will get a bit better economy than even the 2.5L I4, with comparable horsepower to the 3.0L V6. However, it will cost a decent amount more. Customers will have to make pricing and performance tradeoffs when they purchase.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Eco-boost" technology?

      How about we just call it what it is, turbocharging.

      And yes, it's not going to make fuel economy magically go up, it lets a smaller engine (in theory) do the work of a bigger one. But what exactly is it saving if fuel economy is not significantly better?

      Not much, which is what I've said here and elsewhere for a long time.

      My Grand National accelerated like a V8, it also used more fuel than my current V8 does at 12mpg. Said V8 averages 17-19mpg overall per tank.
        • 7 Years Ago
        So we're gonna compare a 20 year old engine with a modern engine for fuel economy? Genius idea!
      • 7 Years Ago
      going to add more
      what about compression increases? the DI setups have a good cooling factor, and if used to lean burn like a diesel get even better. With good fuel metering and ignition timing, we should be able to increase the compression ratios on most engines. when gas costs over $4/gallon, the extra $0.20 for premium (91-93 octane) is a small increase in cost (5%) whereas when gas was $1.30 a gallon, $0.20 was a much larger percentage (15%)

      turbos are a great way to increase power, but most turbo systems also run fat by nature, which means unburned hydrocarbons in the tail, as well as a reduction in fuel efficiency (compared to a simialr output engine of larger displacement at WOT) due to the rich a/f mix.

      my b18a blower, cammed, integra ran 10.5:1 pistons with no problem for more than the 50k miles i had it for (90k total no block rebuild) and would get 28-36mpg
      my friend ran a b20 frankenstein with 12.5 roller waves to the tune of 40 mpg on the highway (and 200 whp).
      my ms3 gets a real 18-22 with its 9.something pistons and blurbo (not tuned for fuel efficiency/mileage)

      the real kicker, all 3 cars are about equal in the 1/4 (13.8-14.2)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I don't see why Ford is being made out to be some sort of genius over this Ecoboost stuff.

      GM has the EXACT same technology out RIGHT NOW in the Solstice, Sky, HHR SS, and Cobalt SS.

      Way to go Ford...you are late to the party again.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Just like GM is late to the hybrid party. No one is claiming Ford invented turbos but until now they've only been used in performance applications and/or in relatively low volume cars. Ford is going to make them commonplace by using them on affordable cars in high numbers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Try to keep up with the news Matt.
        If Ford was trying to repeat what GM and others were doing by raising power on existing motors with turbos and DI, then they would have stuck with the name TwinForce.
        What is different here is that Ford is trying to attract many more buyers (for CAFE reasons) to a more efficient smaller engine by using fewer cylinders and boosting the power to comparable performance levels of the larger engines (thus the EcoBoost name).
        No one else is doing this on the scale that Ford is, although the technology is well known by others like GM and VW. Ecoboost is not a new technology, it is a new strategy for use of existing technology.
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