FEV (fev.com), a Germany-based automotive powertrain consultancy with a North American technical center in Auburn Hills, MI, is, explains Gary Rogers, president and CEO of FEV, Inc., among a handful of companies that serve OEMs with an array of equipment, personnel, and know-how. “We have to make very significant and regular investments in engine test cells, dynamometers and emission measuring equipment without the benefit of being a small overhead rider on an automotive product that we sell,” he says. Which explains why there are only about a half-dozen companies globally that is in FEV’s space. It takes a large commitment. And investment. FEV has about 2,600 people around the world, of which 500 are in southeastern Michigan. “It’s a relatively small fraternity,“ Rogers admits.
One of the responsibilities that arises from such a concentrated knowledge base is in sharing expertise with those outside the industry. Rogers has been personally involved in two of the National Academy of Science’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) studies, and this gives him a unique perspective. “I think the question of, ‘Is it technically possible to get 54 mpg?’ has been answered, and the answer is, ‘Yes’. The question, ‘Can we afford it?’ is another question entirely.” Affordability, Rogers says, encompasses both the OEM’s development costs, and the consumer’s ability to pay for the vehicle that results. It also brings up another question: “Do people want it?”
“If we eliminated large cars and light trucks, and everybody had to buy an A- or B-segment car, we could get to a 54 mpg fleet average very quickly,” he says. “But that’s not market reality.” Yet, the CAFE regulations stand as public policy that carries a penalty for not achieving the stated goal. Thus, automakers must convince people to buy the products that result from meeting this objective. It is not helped by critics who believe that, over the past 15 years when CAFE standards were stable, the industry “tricked” an unsuspecting public into believing it needed horsepower, not fuel economy. Nothing, Rogers states categorically, is further from the truth. “The reality in today’s world is that we are developing more efficient engines and, through that, we are getting more horsepower. The technology that we are using to increase the specific power of engines can, in fact, be used to improve fuel consumption. That’s where the downsizing strategy comes in.”
Employing a smaller, high-output motor to do the same work as a larger engine is not new. Getting it into production in a manner that is both affordable and pleasing to the average car buyer is, however. “My opinion,” says Rogers, “is that there is still a lot to gain from the powertrain, but there is a limit as to how far we can go with conventional powertrains.” Pushing this technology will require not just downsizing but turbocharging, direct injection, variable cam phasing, cylinder deactivation, stop-start, and transmissions with more ratios, or CVTs. To get more means going further in terms of technology deployment. According to Rogers: “I think the future is going to be more about energy management. That means turning things on when you need them and off when you don’t. If there’s a way to store energy, like during braking, you do it.” The lengths to which suppliers, automakers and others will go to recover energy seemingly knows no bounds. “They’re even looking at things like a piezoelectric technology that turns heat from the exhaust system into electricity that can be put back into the battery where it can be used either to take care of the passenger or move the vehicle,” he says.
It also means adding capability with microprocessor and communication technologies. FEV recently acquired DGE, a telematics and infotainment engineering company in nearby Rochester Hills, MI. Just as delivery companies learned that it was more efficient to make three right turns to and keep moving than to slog through traffic to make a single left, Rogers believes that advancements in communications, the mapping of traffic, and adding topographical data to the decision tree will greatly improve real-world fuel efficiency. For example, instead of having a hybrid’s engine start halfway up a hill, at a point that is least efficient, the vehicle “looks ahead and makes adjustments ahead of time so that you can charge the batteries most efficiently.” This same technology also can be used by non-hybrid vehicle to determine the best combination of items (turbo boost, gear, valve timing, etc.) necessary to reach the destination quickly and efficiently.
Though FEV works on hundreds of powertrain programs simultaneously, it is often brought into a project at the concept phase to assess what path the OEM is taking. With FEV’s work on compact engines for Europe and Asia, for example, the OEM may want to know if it can get the five pounds of capabilities it desires into a manufacturable four-pound bag, whether it can do so with its existing block line, and what efficiency losses may come with that decision. This independent cost/benefit analysis often results in FEV being asked to make it happen, without the worry that doing so will result in it being sold FEV’s in-house technologies. “Even though we often consult with Tier 1s on their products,” says Rogers, “we don’t manufacture any of our own. Therefore, we don’t have a vested interest in selling any particular system.” FEV’s growing expertise lies elsewhere.
Even though there are fewer base engine programs, they are being put into a larger number of vehicles. Thus, says Rogers, “application engineering, the calibration of the system into the vehicle, is becoming a very large and increasing portion of our business. We see much more work happening in the total vehicle system, the total electronic system, and its interface to propulsion.”