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Automakers Seek Ways to Meet CAFE Standard

August 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Mazda is offering a sneak peek at its new crossover, the CX-5, which will make its debut at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show. But, according to a report by MSNBC, the sculpted styling reveals the practical application of the Japanese maker’s new Kodo design language, what really matters is hidden under the hood.

The SkyActiv powertrain is designed to give the CX-5 and other Mazda products a significant bump in both performance and, perhaps more importantly, in fuel economy. Like its competitors, Mazda is struggling to meet consumer demand for better mileage — a push that will come to shove now that the Obama administration has approved plans to boost the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standard to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

That’s a modest retreat from earlier proposals that would have stretched as high as 62 mpg, but even though industry leaders grudgingly endorsed the new rules, they caution it will be a costly and difficult challenge that may require a significant number of technological breakthroughs to achieve.

“Obviously, there is still a great deal of uncertainty,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota’s top American executive, “which is why we are rolling out and testing a range of alternative fuel options.”

Indeed, as GM’s retired but still very active “car czar,” Bob Lutz, is fond of saying, “There is no silver bullet.”

What will motorists likely see in their driveway in 2025 as a result of the changes?

On the powertrain front:

• The internal combustion engine won’t go away, not that soon, anyway, so gasoline engines will apply even more advanced forms of direct injection, more aggressive turbocharging and possibly the use of lasers to replace conventional spark plugs.

• New and even cleaner diesels will almost certainly migrate from Europe to the U.S. Chevrolet hopes to get more than 50 mpg on the highway with the diesel-powered Cruze sedan it announced last month.

• Automatic transmissions will continue to add more gears, like the 9-speed Chrysler is developing, while more cars will switch to “manumatic,” or clutchless manuals.

• Downsizing will be essential. Ford is working on a 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder version of its EcoBoost, while pint-sized V-6s could deliver V-8 performance in its big F-Series pickups.

• A number of experts believe that the new CAFE rules may force the industry to migrate more and more towards alternatives to the internal combustion engine.

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