Step right up! How automakers have placed their bets on future powertrain technologies

Imagine that you have in front of you all the latest powertrain technologies available on the market or in development today:
  • advanced petrol engines
  • hydrogen/petrol engines
  • clean diesel engines
  • petrol-electric hybrids
  • diesel-electric hybrids
  • fuel cell-electric hybrids
  • plug-in electrics
  • hydrogen fuel cells
Now imagine that you work at a major car manufacturer and are the person ultimately in charge of picking the winning technology. Do you play it safe and capitalise on sales today or do you bet on an emerging technology to try and dominate the market tomorrow. Remember, picking the wrong powertrain could cost you dearly.

Clearly, when it comes to environmental engine technologies that will save fuel and reduce emissions, no one really knows how the future will play out, but everyone still has to try and guess. With so many possibilities, it's interesting to take a look at how the major car manufacturer are positioning themselves today.

Find all the bets details after the highly-efficient jump.

DaimlerChrysler recently brought out its 50-state compliant BlueTec clean diesel technology which will pop up in Mercedes-Benz and Jeep models. BlueTec will also appear in Volkswagen and Audi vehicles since they've signed up for the initiative as well. At the Detroit Auto Show Mercedes-Benz unveiled their Vision GL 420 BlueTec diesel concept. DaimlerChrysler has also been working on fuel cells for years but hasn't done too much in the area of plug-in hybrids.

(Take a look at our high-resolution Audi V12 TDI gallery.)

BMW made news at the Los Angeles Auto Show with the Hydrogen 7 which can be run on either gasoline or liquified hydrogen, as well as with its plans to use BlueTec-like urea injection technology in their latest clean diesel models. BMW also has plans to bring out a two-mode hybrid models via their joint development agreement with DaimlerChrysler and General Motors.

GM has of course just unveiled its Chevy Volt battery-powered electric concept which uses a small turbocharged, 1.0L three cylinder engine to drive a generator that charges the on-board lithium-ion battery pack. The Volt is the first vehicle application of the GM's new E-Flex platform.

Take a look at our high resolution Chevy Volt Concept

Saab, another member of the GM stable, unveiled its own ethanol-electric hybrid in Detroit which has an E100 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine plus three electric motors. The juice for the electric motors comes courtesy of a 42-cell, 300-volt lithium-ion battery bank.

Honda expects hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be widely available in 2018 but isn't waiting around as they get set to enter the clean diesel and hybrid-only markets over the next two years. There are hints that Honda will introduce a new Insight.

Take a look at our high resolution Honda FCX Concept gallery.

Ford unveiled the hydrogen-powered PHEV Airstream concept in Detroit. The Airstream uses the HySeries Drive powertrain which is battery-powered, has plug-in capability and uses a hydrogen fuel cell as an on-board charger. Also on display was the 2008 Escape SUV which has both petrol and petrol-electric hybrid powertrains.

Take a look at our high resolution Ford Airstream Concept and 2008 Escape SUV galleries.

Mazda unveiled its Ryuga concept which may use a E85/Gasoline FLEX FUEL engine, plus the all new 2008 Mazda Tribute hybrid SUV which is powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with Atkinson-cycle combustion along with a 70-kWatt electric traction motor.

Take a look at our high resolution Mazda Ryuga and Mazda Tribute Hybrid SUV galleries.

Mitsubishi is another company looking at clean diesels very seriously, and plans to start selling the Lancer sports sedan with the VAG-supplied Pump Jet Diesel in Europe. This will be upgraded to a "new powerful turbo-diesel variant" that will be available in the U.S. as well in 2010.

Take a look at our high resolution Mitsubishi Prototype X gallery.

Toyota, who has led the way with hybrid vehicles, unveiled its FT-HS front-engine, rear-drive sports car in Detroit which has a 3.5-liter V6 engine and an advanced hybrid system that pumps out 400 total horsepower. Fuel cell development has also been undertaken at Toyota, but for the time being, they appear to be sticking with petrol-electric hybrids in their new products.

Take a look at our high resolution Toyota FT-HS-large gallery.

Toyota's top engineer, Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto, foresees that eventually only three powertrains will survive the shakedown sure to happen over the next ten years or so: advanced internal combustion engines that burn fuel more efficiently and harness heat that is now wasted; electrically driven motors; and hydrogen fuel cells. And various hybrid variant combinations of all three no doubt.

With research and development costs so high, automakers are hoping the powertrains that survive and thrive are decided sooner rather than later.

[Source: Jonathan Fahey / Forbes]

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