It seems like every day another car maker is announcing plans to phase out gas-powered cars. Why not? Electric cars are chock full of technology and in today’s connected world, this tech is considered sexy. Despite all the headlines, the internal combustion engine remains the mainstay of the global car industry. And guess what – it is probably going remain that way for some time. As such, it is safe to say that the internal combustion engine is not dead yet.
Room for Improvement
One thing to know about the internal combustion engine is that there is still plenty of room for improvement. We have seen this in constant improvements in manufacturing technology and also in fuel efficiency standards.
In fact, engineers are still finding ways to improve the tried and true internal combustion engine. One example of this is the work that Mazda is doing with their Skyactiv-X engine. Based on reports, the performance is just as good as today’s hybrid engines and this could help to launch a new generation of engines.
Another example of where engineers are just getting started is the 2018 Chevy Traverse. This SUV gets up to 27 miles per gallon on the highway. While this might not raise eyebrows, you need to know that this SUV can seat seven and has a massive storage area.
One of the breakthroughs that is breathing new life into the internal combustion engine is direct injection. This is development is adding power and fuel economy, while simultaneously lowering emissions. It’s like the holy grail of engine development and it comes at a great time as oil prices are beginning to creep above $60 per barrel.
What makes direct injection exciting is that it replaces previous methods of pumping fuel and air into an engine. Not only does this improve efficiency but it also reduces risks of what is known as hydrolocking – this is when water prevents engine pistons from reaching the top of their stroke. As you can see this development is not only increasing performance but is also helping the engine to be more reliable.
Now you will probably need a newer car but this is when an engine automatically stops and then restarts instead of idling. This can be especially useful when driving in city traffic and it helps to significantly reduce emissions. Many new cars come with this technology and it is fast becoming the standard for gas-powered cars.
We are not talking about bicycles. Heck many road bikes the pros use come with 21-speeds or more. However, one carryover is that many new cars are coming with different gear ratios and this helps to improve performance by reducing energy loss. Sure, this is probably a losing game as electric vehicles do not have gears but these developments are helping to keep the internal combustion engine relevant.
While this technology has been around for a while, it is starting to make a comeback. Superchargers and their cousins, the turbocharger, help small engines to increase power – giving them the same punch as larger engines. This happens by compressing air and then passing it through the engine. The result not only boosts power but also increases fuel efficiency.
By the way, the increased pressure can be quite big. For example, Infiniti’s turbocharger compresses air anywhere from 8:1 to 14:1 and some industry sources believe improved controllers and engine manufacturing could even bring that up to 20:1.
The Loyal Opposition
Another breakthrough which is starting to get significant attention is an approach called ‘opposed-piston’ technology. This can be even more efficient than turbochargers as it uses the energy two pistons to power the car. Not only do these engines operate at lower piston speeds but they also have a smaller footprint and increased fuel efficiency.
While the technology has been around for some time it is starting to gain the attention of many car makers and some observers believe it could be used in the next generation of small cars heading to the market.
Not Dead Yet
What you can see from these breakthroughs is that the internal combustion is not dead yet. If anything, the increased competition from electric vehicles is driving engineers to speed up their attempts to improve the gas-powered engines.
While these improvements might not stop electric vehicles from gaining market share, they show that the internal combustion engine is not going to go away without a fight.