Saturday, July 1, 2017

Car Technology — Who is betting on what technology? Transmissions? Engines?

The technology in cars is very interesting to follow. A lot of innovation is happening around the entertainment systems in cars and the integration with our smart phones. However, there is another part of technology that is kind of happening in the background with car enthusiasts being positively or negatively impacted by the decisions that manufacturers have been making.
I am talking about the strategic approach that car companies have been taking with regards to:
  • * Transmission technology
  • * Engine technology
(1) Transmission Technology:
Here are the current transmission technology choices:
  • * Regular manual
  • * Dual-Clutch Automatics with shifting capability
  • * Traditional automatics with or without shifting capability
  • * CVT with or without emulated shifting capability
It is interesting to see how different car companies are betting on different technologies and it is not clear yet if that is just a tactical approach or long-term strategic approach that they are taking.
We know that regular manual transmissions are slowly going away and there are fewer and fewer choices from year to year. That is not a surprise, but it is definitely not a move that purist car enthusiasts (petrolheads) are fond of.
However, the interesting thing is following the decisions that car companies have been making with regards to Dual-clutch automatics, traditional automatics and CVTs.
For example, Honda is betting on CVTs for all their low-horsepower cars (Fit, Civic, Accord, CR-V, HR-V). However, Acura (their sister company) is betting on the traditional automatics and dual-clutch transmissions (8-speed and 9-speed) that they are for example putting into their Acura ILX, Acura MDX and other vehicles. As a car enthusiast, it makes me wonder if the decision with using CVTs in Hondas is just a tactical / interim decision and ultimately they are putting their bets on dual-clutch transmissions that they have been using in their Acura vehicles. It could be that the dual-clutch transmissions are costly and they are just waiting for the right time to introduce them in Hondas.
On the other hand, Nissan seems to be putting all their bets on the CVTs in majority of their lineup and for their high-horsepower sports cars and SUVs, they are sticking with traditional automatics and dual-clutch automatics.
As for Toyota, it is hard to tell what their direction is. Their hybrids and Toyota Corollas are using CVTs, but the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder Camry is using the traditional automatics and the newest one even has a rev-matching feature on downshifts. Maybe they are deciding to try the 8-speed traditional automatics on the Toyota Camry to see how it is working out. Maybe that transmission would also be introduced in the new Corolla when it comes out.
On the other hand, Jeeps and Chevy Camaro are betting on their new 10-speed traditional automatic that is supposed to improve fuel consumption and at the same time keep the revs in the power band for spirited driving.
BMW has always been investing into their traditional automatics for their regular line-up and they are just increasing the number of gears and optimizing the shifting. Other luxury car companies are also betting on traditional automatics and dual-clutch automatics.
It is interesting to watch this unfold from the side-lines, and I hope that traditional automatics and dual-clutch automatics prevail even though the CVTs I have experienced in Hondas are really good.
(2) Engine Technology:
Here are the technology choices for engines:
  • * Turbocharged 3-cylinder engines to replace 4-cylinder naturally aspirated engines
  • * Turbocharged 4-cylinder engines to replace V6 engines
  • * Turbocharged 6-cylinder engines to replace V8 engines
  • * Sticking with naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engines and improving efficiency and power with high compression ratio
  • * Sticking with naturally aspirated 6-cylinder engines and improving efficiency and power with high compression ratio
  • * Hybrids with intention to be pure economy choice
  • * Supplementing regular engines with electric power for performance as the main goal and also helping out with the fuel consumption
  • * Sticking with naturally aspirated V8 and V10 engines
  • * Pure electric motors
Governments in many countries are requesting from car companies to improve the fuel consumption and emissions from year to year. Therefore, car companies are under pressure to deliver and many of them have no other choice but to drop the number of cylinders and introduce turbochargers on their engines in order to meet the emission and fuel consumption regulations.
For example, Mercedes and BMW are going with turbocharged engines. They are replacing their naturally aspirated 6-cylinder engines with turbocharged 4-cylinder engines and in this process, they are keeping the horsepower the same while increasing the torque numbers and improving fuel consumption and reducing the emissions.
On the other hand, Honda as always been known for free-revving naturally aspirated engines with low torque, but they actually gave in and started releasing cars with turbocharged engines. Their recent introduction in Civics and CR-V is a 1.5L turbocharged engine that does not have VTEC any more. This is the first time you can say that Civics have torque, but the purists out there are disappointed about the high-revving VTEC being gone. I have owned cars with both free-revving naturally aspirated engines and with turbocharged engines. There is definitely something about the high-revving engines that makes car enthusiasts smile, but on the other hand you have the torque of turbocharged engines that is very practical in daily driving.
As for Toyota and Mazda, they seem to be betting on naturally aspirated engines with higher compression ratios; higher compression ratio helps you with fuel consumption and power gains as well. Mazda MX-5 (Miata), Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 all have naturally aspirated high-compression engines. Toyota is also betting on high-compression-ratio engines with their 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines that seem to be promising based on professional reviews.
It is interesting to watch these different tactical and strategic moves unfold in the automotive industry. I am sure that some of these moves will open up the market for some collectibles. For example, Acura Integra Type-R becomes even more valuable with the release of the new Civic Type-R with a 2.0L turbocharged engine. BMW M3 with the naturally aspirated 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder engine will be that much more valuable with the release of new M3 and M4 in turbocharged form.
In conclusion: As car enthusiasts, we are living during fun times when you have very good choices without spending too much money; it reminds me of early and mid 90s when the car scene was blooming.
Thank you for reading. 
Almir Mustafic

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