August 08, 2013
10 Speed Automatic Transmissions And 3 Cylinder Engines

The strides being made to increase fuel efficiency are amazing.The race to raise car fuel economy is driving up transmission gear count while it drives down engine cylinder count. The 2015 Chevy Volt will come with a 3 cylinder engine. If electric power can supplement the engine's power the impact on acceleration should be small or none.

A 3 liter diesel engine will enable a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee to go 730 miles. Great for escape from a sudden collapse of civilization. Or just use it to the Alaska highway.

The improvements to internal combustion engine drive train efficiency might cause liquid-fueled vehicles to last much longer than Peak Oil theorists and electric vehicle advocates expect. Why? Because synthetic liquids can be expensive to make and yet still attractive if the distance they carry you goes up substantially. If you had a 70 miles per gallon car then fuel costing $10 per gallon would be no big deal.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 August 08 10:15 PM 

L. said at August 9, 2013 12:19 AM:

Fuel does cost $10 a gallon here!

L. said at August 9, 2013 12:21 AM:

Fuel does cost $10 here!

Meower68 said at August 9, 2013 6:43 AM:

Peak Oil is widely misunderstood. It's not that we're running out of oil. It's that we have run out of cheap oil. Two things will delay the end of oil use:

* technology which drives down the cost of extracting oil (fracking, anyone?)
* technology which drives down the consumption of oil

These technologies, along with hybrids, are merely the second kind of technology. The cost of oil doesn't determine the economic activity per se. The cost of doing stuff, such as driving to/from work, does. 20 years ago, current oil prices would've brought the economy to a near standstill. Today, our industrial processes (which still remain) are less dependent on oil, so we can continue to operate with higher oil costs.

This is merely personal transportation keeping up with everything else.

It's nice, don't get me wrong. But it's really not that surprising. The next step is displace oil with other energy sources, whether they be synthetic fuels, biofuels or electricity. When a resource becomes too expensive, people reduce their consumption of it, then they displace it altogether.

pond said at August 9, 2013 6:43 AM:

I believe the Chevy Volt is a serial hybrid: the electric motor always drives the wheels, and the gas engine merely recharges the batteries. Is Chevy switching things up in the 2015 model?

James Bowery said at August 9, 2013 8:22 AM:

See Fixing Hubbert Linearization for a peak oil model that may fit the advent of enhanced extraction. An important parameter in that "fix" is the degree of skewness introduced to Hubbert's normal curve.

Engineer-Poet said at August 9, 2013 9:24 AM:

The Volt is not a series hybrid.  Never was.

Da55id said at August 9, 2013 12:36 PM:

I have a volt - awesome awesome car. I used to pay 300 a month for gas. now I pay 30 for electricity and $8 for 2 gallons per months. 38 vs 300 - the car literally pays me to drive it.

Randall Parker said at August 10, 2013 12:15 PM:


Great. Do you only charge at home? A friend only ever charges her's at home. I'm curious to know how many people charge elsewhere and how long the fastest charge rate takes.

Engineer-Poet said at August 10, 2013 9:01 PM:

I can't answer for da55id, but I mostly charge at home (Level 1), but there are Level 2 chargers on a free-to-the-user Chargepoint network about 14 miles away and a free-to-the-public dealership charger about 15 miles away that I use a few times a month.  If I exploit them to the maximum, I can get to area destinations and back home without using liquid fuel.

My lifetime average fuel economy has topped 137 MPG.

Da55id said at August 12, 2013 9:23 AM:

I charge at home on a 240 volt charger. Full charge takes 3hrs 40 mins. My lifetime MPG is above 250mpg. We use the gas engine the way early adopters to cars used spare would blow out then quite frequently - "tires of the early 1900s seldom lasted more than 500 miles or that serious motorists in those days carried as many as six spares." from that stellar source ;-)

Engineer-Poet said at August 13, 2013 7:44 AM:

My lifetime MPG would be around there too, if I hadn't driven about half the total mileage in long-distance legs.

I'm only 4 months into the experiment so far, we'll see what happens.  I expect winter to push the average down somewhat, since the engine needs to run to have good cabin heat and defrost.

destructure said at August 13, 2013 10:16 AM:

Increasing transmission gear counts and lowering cylinder counts isn't new technology. They could have done that 100 years ago. Another major change to increase mileage is to reduce weight with lighter vehicles. The Ford Focus ECOnetic gets 8o mpg without any new tech. It combines a lot of things people already knew into one package -- including economical driving. The car's computer coaches the driver on how to drive to save fuel. One can add several mpg by simply driving the speed limit and coasting to lights rather than coming to a complete stop. Ergo one of the biggest boosts to car efficiency could come from something outside the car -- replacing lights and stop signs with roundabouts. Not to mention, they're cheaper to build, reduce gridlock and save lives.

EV's are similar in that there haven't been any efficiency improvements in the electric motor for decades. Any improvements to batteries have come from using different materials. But the basic principle behind the battery hasn't changed for 100 years, either. Improvements in battery aren't like CPU's. They won't keep getting smaller, faster and cheaper. They'll get the quick easy improvements up front and then they'll plateau. Case in point. After nearly 20 years of cellphones my battery still sucks.

Any real improvements are going to have to come from breakthroughs materials science. It might be 5 years, 50 years or never. You can neither predict nor count on it.


"38 vs 300 - the car literally pays me to drive it."

You may be saving 2/3 on the fuel cost of an egallon compared to gasoline. But you paid at least $5K more for an EV on the front end. And in a few years you'll pay $10K to replace your batteries on the back end.

Engineer-Poet said at August 13, 2013 3:49 PM:

The only people who will be paying $10K for battery replacements will be Tesla owners.  I expect PHEVs to be half to a third of that, with the new battery chemistries coming down the pike and the price pressures that will come with growth of the market in traction batteries.

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