After devoting much of this issue to power and performance in some form or another, we don't think it's dead yet. Coincident with the details-to-be-determined 35-mpg bill passage, doomsayers voiced fears that it spelled the death knell for high-performance cars and trucks. We've heard this before, but these days, there are myriad ways to make power more efficiently.
Consider turbocharging, which fools a small engine into thinking it's bigger for the 5-10 percent of the time it's running at wide-open throttle. Increasing popularity brings a wave of marketing tags like Ford's EcoBoost; GM already had the Ecotec name in place. And with GM talking about putting the 2.0-liter turbo in a Camaro, why wouldn't it work in a 3500-pound SUV or crossover? With the right torque converter you could even use it in a small Hummer.
Dr. Doom and company groan that turbochargers won't last and the engines will give up. Porsche and a host of diesel builders show longevity isn't an issue, and I challenge you to get, say, 300 horsepower out of a 2.2-liter engine without a turbocharger and see if it lasts any longer.
I think it was a motorcycle builder who opined gearboxes are needed only because no one's built a decent engine yet. So the next avenue to more efficient performance is more gears, and if you've read road tests in recent decades you know a wider gear spread aids fuel economy with no detriment to performance.
Diesels will play a big part, too, whether or not mainstream America wants them. As "we'll never do a gasoline turbo" BMW stuffs turbos under the hoods of its 1, 3, and 5 Series, "we will never do a diesel" Porsche is considering a diesel Cayenne, which is just one reason it's buying up as much of VW/Audi as possible. Porsche's latest theory betrays its money-lust behind the diesel idea, suggesting it'll build a diesel only if Americans embrace that technology. I think a diesel (or diesel/electric hybrid) is the only sensible torque producer for a 2.5-ton-plus truck.
Remember the Renegade concept Jeep displayed at the 2008 Detroit auto show? It used a lithium-ion battery pack generator-fed by a small BlueTEC diesel. Imagine the possibilities of a Jeep trail vehicle with zero-rpm full-torque electric motors-at the wheels or on axles-charged by a diesel that might use a gallon an hour. Sneak in under electric power only to abscond with used fryer oil and you'd be Jeepin' for free and making everyone else hungry.
Europe offered a slew of diesel-electric hybrids this year, among them a Mercedes GLK-Class 2.2-liter turbodiesel (0 to 62 in 7.3, 134 mph, 39.7 mpg, and 157 g/km CO2) and a Golf with a 73-horsepower, 1.2-liter diesel inline-three, 220-volt motor, seven-speed DSG, and about 70 mpg. Peugeot has shown diesel/electric hybrids and is positing the idea of a diesel/electric Le Mans racer.
Also making progress are HCCI (homogenous charge compression ignition) engines and the gasoline/diesel mix that VW and Mercedes (DiesOtto) are working on.
Up to this point, the discussion has argued for existing technologies, with internal-combustion engines and electric motors for running vehicles without huge price premiums. We haven't even gotten into hydraulic accumulators to capture energy in heavy trucks under deceleration that can be returned to the system and aid acceleration post-stop. Nor have we covered fuel cells or plug-in hybrids. The latter will likely require significant infrastructure upgrades. The backward-thinkers in California have decreed new requirements for sales volume of plug-in hybrids, as usual with lots of alternative sales methods in other low or zero-emissions vehicles. But the very name "plug-in" suggests they will connect to a power outlet that's connected to the power grid, the same power system with routine brown-outs in the summer and electric companies that will pay you to let them switch off your air-conditioner. How many times will you be able to call the spouse and say, "Sorry, honey, I can't make it home tonight because the power's off and I can't recharge" before she starts making her own set of sparks?
The next logical step is to make things lighter. This September, Lotus will celebrate its 60th anniversary, and founder Colin Chapman knew well that lighter weight equals faster cars that are easier to stop, are easier on parts, and use less fuel. His small-engine cars often made quick work of big-bore machinery on the track, and the current models are only about 25 percent heavier than those of the 1970s.
Simply put, performance isn't dead and this latest round of legislation shouldn't be the end of it, but you will have to pay more for it. And you might have to reset priorities and drive your recreational vehicle rather than just load it into a larger recreational vehicle to be towed by yet a third recreational vehicle.
For my part, I've reset the fuel pump on my truck and, certain no one can yet ration the wind, I've renewed my interest in sailing.