Ten years ago, the top selling trucks in the U.S. had an average combined EPA fuel economy of only 14 mpg. Today, that number is closer to 20. What has happened? Have we sacrificed performance for fuel efficiency? Not at all. Although car manufacturers have shrunk the engines significantly, new technologies allow for better performance AND better gas mileage. Let’s take a look at some of the improvements in truck engines.
Fuel efficiency depends on factors other than the engine, like aerodynamics, weight and rolling resistance. However, it is increasingly harder for pick-up trucks to improve in other aspects of fuel efficiency while at the same time adding new technological improvements. Remember, the job a truck is hired to do is not to consume as little fuel as possible, but to tow, carry and drag.
This technology has been around for a while and has been used in high performance cars for decades. Manufacturers started implementing turbochargers in trucks as it allows for a smaller engine without losing torque. Ford’s Ecoboost engines are use turbocharging to compensate for their small size (3.5 V6 to power a 6000 lb vehicle).
Variable displacement is also known as cylinder deactivation. The system works by allowing some of the cylinders to stop moving while the throttle is closed or running at steady speeds, like highway speeds, without affecting its power. Before its modern implementation, variable displacement technology failed to reach mass market because of unsolved engineering challenges dating back to the early 80s. Today, this technology is widely used by Honda, GM and Mercedes-Benz.
Direct Fuel Injection
Direct Fuel injection allows for a better control of the amount of fuel that goes into the cylinders as it is delivered directly, thus reducing waste. Ecoboost engines by Ford rely heavily on this technology coupled with turbocharging.
New manufacturing techniques have made materials such as aluminum a viable option for many parts of a vehicle, engines included. This reduces the weight of engines by about half, compared to iron block engines. However, there were some problems with early aluminum engines as they couldn’t handle the high temperatures. That’s all in the past as most of today’s standard small engines are aluminum.
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