A summer full of record gas prices has changed the automotive landscape forever, with changing consumer demands and buying habits forcing automakers to quickly bring more fuel-efficient vehicles to market ahead of larger, less-efficient trucks and SUVs.
These changes have also brought issues of energy conservation and environmental responsibility from the “back-burner” to the very forefront of future car design — but one question that has been largely ignored by the mainstream media is how these changes will affect car enthusiasts who usually care more about horsepower and acceleration than economy and emissions.
While some of the more extreme environmentalists might immediately respond with “Who cares!?”, the truth is that the horsepower and adrenaline junkies are often key players in the diffusion of automotive innovations that have already helped to make once-exotic technologies and materials commonplace.
One of the many automotive companies that is working to develop environmentally responsible ways to deliver the horsepower that many customers still crave is RENNtech, a South-Florida based tuning firm that, since 1989, has been best known for building big, luxurious, fire-breathing Mercedes-Benz’s that rocket down a quarter-mile drag-strip in about 11 seconds (faster than a stock Chevy Corvette or Ferrari F430).
Hartmut Feyhl, president of RENNtech and ex-technical director at AMG North America, explains that performance enthusiasts might have more in common with environmentalists than one may think:
“As people, obviously everyone should want to take care of the environment. As enthusiasts, also, we want to enjoy our vehicles and drive the cars at their limits – this means we want lighter weight, more efficient aerodynamics, and the latest technology – all things that the environmentalists want as well. At the end of the day, we want to have fun with our cars, and do no harm.”
What is the best way, then, to play responsibly? Feyhl points out a several factors that are buzzing in the performance tuning world:
“The three things most people talk about these days, when they talk about new technology and green technology, are first, hybrids – which are becoming very important. Second is usually more efficient packaging with smaller engines and diesel engines, and the third is alternative and renewable fuels.”
Through RENNtech, Hartmut is doing more than simply paying lip service to these current trends and is actively pursuing the performance potential of these new technologies.
As with many new automotive technologies, RENNtech’s performance hybrid system is being tested in RENNtech’s GLK hybrid rally racer, scheduled to make its public debut at this year’s LA Auto show in November. While still under development, RENNtech’s GLK show-car will feature a mild hybrid system similar in concept to the system used in GM’s Chevy and Saturn hybrids. RENNtech’s system, however, makes use of much more powerful electric motors to help launch the car out of the tight, low-speed corners that make up most rally courses.
Hybrids, though, are not the only technology manufacturers have turned for more efficiency. Recent new-model introductions from companies like GM and Mercedes-Benz make use of smaller, turbocharged engines in an effort to deliver “small-engine” fuel economy with “big-engine” horsepower. For this “next-generation” of turbo engines, Feyhl and his crew at RENNtech have developed a series of “next-generation” software packages that deliver improved power and throttle response without a negative impact on mileage.
“Our newest software takes advantage of the increased processing power of the new engine computer, so we are able to make a number of small improvements that add up to a significant overall improvement,” says Feyhl. “In fact, we have quite a number of customers that report back a 2-3 mpg improvement in mileage.”
RENNtech is also making progress with flex-fuel racing engines, and kicked off 2008 by showing a new flex-fuel version of the RENNtech/Aixro XR50 4-cycle kart racing engine.
“When we stared with this engine three years ago, the goal, initially, was to offer an engine that made power like the 2-strokers — but that could be made to run cleaner,” explains Feyhl, who goes on to say that “the writing is definitely on the wall for these recreational 2-strokers, and an engine like the Aixro — which is not only a 4-stroker but also a very clean and very powerful 4-stroker — is almost perfect.” **
Certainly, real advances in modern green technology are finally being made by premium-brand carmakers like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Porsche, who are promising that tomorrow’s “green machine” owners won’t have to sacrifice fun and performance to be responsible citizens (even Rolls Royce is rumored to be developing an all-electric Phantom-class cruiser!).
** It should be noted that one of RENNtech’s XR50 kart engines, driven by Jamie Ferrell, was the first 4-cycle engine to win the unlimited class at the annual “Tulsa Shootout” in 2007, and XR50s have been winning unlimited-class races across the US throughout 2008.
Image Credit: Photo of RENNtech GLK rally racer leaked on autoblog, used with permission of RENNtech.