Editor’s Note: Our friends at Popular Mechanics have written an in-depth piece about an essential piece of fuel-saving technology: the turbocharger. Read the rest of this story at PM.
In the 1980s, it was difficult to escape the turbocharger. The twin energy crises of the 1970s forced automakers to produce cars that delivered better fuel economy. And that meant downsizing engines. By the 1980s, turbo technology was evolving and automakers installed them to boost the power of these smaller engines. But turbos promised more than just power—they promised fuel economy benefits too.
Turbos were billed as a way to have the fuel economy of a four-cylinder engine with the power of a Six. Sound familiar? That’s what automakers are claiming today. Theoretically it makes sense because the turbo uses some of the normally wasted exhaust energy. And downsizing the engines reduces thermodynamic and frictional losses. It’s an easy win win, right? Well, in many cases the fuel-economy benefits were slight. And some manufacturers were famous for reliability problems. So widespread turbocharger use faded somewhat in the decades since. In their place, the auto industry simply made bigger engines that were more efficient.
Now that we’re in the midst of another kind of energy crisis, the turbocharger is back. Ford is particularly aggressive with the technology and plans to replace many of its V8 engines with twin-turbo V6s and use turbo four-cylinder engines to supplant V6s. The company has even coined a friendly name for its turbo engines—Ecoboost . Ford, however, is not alone. “We’re going to see a lot more turbo engines,” says Chris Meagher, GM’s chief engineer for its Ecotec engines. Industry estimates peg global gasoline-turbocharger production to grow to around 3 million units by 2013. That’s a sixfold increase in less than a decade.
>> This story continues at at Popular Mechanics.
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