Chrysler Boss Says CAFE Will Make V8s Practically Extinct

Given just-announced federal fuel economy and emissions mandates, and calls for the same plus a certain minimum of electrified vehicles by influential California, get ready to say goodbye to the high-output V8 engine, says the CEO of Chrysler.

Actually, Sergio Marchionne predicted this result in the wake of fleet-wide belt tightening particularly from 2017-2025, the period covered by the updated federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. These, he said, will “change the way this industry operates,” and make now proliferating V8s in muscle cars “as rare as white flies.”

If this comes to pass, it’s not a little ironic that all manner of over-the-top expressions of the high-performance automaker’s art are now experiencing something like a renaissance.

If you have the money, today you can purchase from a wide variety of automotive speed machines up to a $2 million V16 made by the VW Group that pushes over 1,100 horsepower – the Bugatti Veyron. And even car buyers with relatively average incomes are invited to the party with such models as Chevrolet’s $55,000, 580-horseepower Camaro ZL1, and Ford’s similarly priced 662-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT500.

Consider that 420 horsepower was around all you’d get from previous-generation exotics like a Lamborghini Countach, and now your local Ford or Chevy dealer has a car that will run away from it in the quarter mile. This is a fact of the automotive landscape as we contemplate extreme austerity measures nearly doubling average fleet-wide fuel economy and halving CO2 emissions over the next 13 years.

At least that’s the plan while automakers are hard at work offering around twice the number of 500-plus horsepower cars than hybrid models communicating quite the mixed message to the marketplace.

If the big V8 is going to be as rare as a white fly, is it also going out with a bang, like a party on the deck of the Titanic, or a last binge banquet before the start of a New Years’ resolution diet? Or is Marchionne’s opinion just one more shaky finger held in the air trying to forecast which way the wind will blow?

One veteran industry analyst from 2953 Analytics, Jim Hill, told NBC News he thinks the latter may be the case, and observed that people have predicted the V8’s demise since 1979.

What ever proves true, the Obama administration has touted its CAFE mandates as overcoming legislative inertia to set the U.S. on course to cleaner and greener.

“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Obama.

Even if the V8 is kept in play, automakers will also be employing an “all-of-the-above” approach to either splice extremely clean vehicles into their automotive gene pool, such as pure EVs and plug-in hybrids or they’ll throw every trick in the book at conventional vehicles for incremental gains.

These include stop/start systems becoming more commonplace, a total systems approach to optimizing vehicles, super efficient transmissions, and various means of weight reduction. Of course we’ll see more downsizing of engines while boosting output through forced induction, direct injection, and other technologies such as those found in Ford’s EcoBoost line.

As mentioned, California is also pushing for more electrified vehicles, and over a dozen states follow its lead, so these mandates too are coming in the face of the most outspoken critics who have said average new car prices could balloon by as much as $10,000 per vehicle in 2025.

GOP presidential candidate Romney has generally sided with the critics of Obama’s legislation, but really there are so many technological and market variables pending in coming years, much lower cost estimates made by the government could prove equally true.

Everyone agrees cars will become more expensive. Up in the air is the question of by how much? Critics have also said while cars will cost more and promise back-end fuel savings, consumers will still be the ones to foot the up-front bill.

The new rules call for “54.5” mpg as an average, but the government has varying ways it calculates this somewhat mythical figure. By 2025, one estimate is that a closer to EPA sticker number will be around 45 mpg for cars and 32 mpg for light trucks.

And at that point will there be fire-breathing V8s for sale like there are so many of today? The head of Chrysler says no, others says yes, and others still say maybe.

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  • Charles

    Umm… Horse-drawn carriages, steam and sailing ships, coal-fired trains, wrought iron, vacuum tubes, black-and-white TVs, swords… All the state of the art at one time, no longer. Technology moves on people. If you waste time mooning over the past, you can’t move forward.

  • Van

    Yes Charles, your point about technological displacement is valid. The powerful cars of the past ran V-8’s that got about 15 MPG.

    Today Ford puts a V-6 in their F150 that gets near 20 MPG and sports over 300 hp.

    But an electric motor could provide the same torque, to provide plenty of power for low speed operation, while coupled with a 10 KWh battery and 75 hp engine driven generator. With this lash-up even a light duty truck could meet the CAFE standards today.


    Who the hell can afford a V-8?

  • Van

    Many folks buy them because they buy big SUV’s and big supercab trucks and so forth. But these extra powerful vehicles are tricky to drive. They are needlessly powerful, like the Caddy with the flags with over 500 hp. When I was young a car with over 200 hp was considered powerful, but they had zero to 60 times over 8 seconds.

    Today, a Camry with the V-6 has a zero to 60 time of less than 8 seconds.

    Bottom line, vehicles with zero to 60 times over 9 seconds are needlessly slow in the opinion of the market, but cars with a zero to 60 time under 7 seconds are needlessly fast in the opinion of the market. Therefore plug-in hybrids should put sufficiently sized motors into their products to produce times under 9 seconds.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    Van wrote: “Therefore plug-in hybrids should put sufficiently sized motors into their products to produce times under 9 seconds”

    Well, that eliminates just about every Plugin car today except for Fisker Karma, Tesla, Volt…

    Prius Plugin, Ford Focus EV, Nissan Leaf and i-Miev are all slower than 9 sec…

  • John D.

    I drive a Prius (53mpg) and a box truck (13mpg when loaded.) If I am driving from place A to place B, I use the Prius. If I am moving equipment from A to B, I use the truck. I would not think of driving the truck empty.

    The truck has the GM Vortec V8. Fine. It’s a commercial vehicle. Right now, this is the practice way to move it. If a viable replacement for the V8 comes along, that is fine too.

    I guess my worry is that small trucks are included in the new standards and that burdens the manufacturers. The logical conclusion is the manufacturers will simply stop building them, and we will have to import trucks as compared to using ones built here.

    What leaves me scratching my head is empty pick-up trucks and oversize SUVs buzzing around, blowing gas out the tailpipe.

    I will never understand people buying the wrong vehicle for the wrong purpose. Nothing new, I guess.

  • v

    @MMF, yes the Volt electric motor sizing seems perfect, providing a time just under 9 seconds. If you look at this link:
    you will see the bulk of modern cars have times between 7 and 9 seconds. Therefore this appears to be the market sweet spot.

    And you are also correct that the Prius is just a little too slow to meet the expectations of many buyers. On the other hand, the 2012 Camry Hybrid (not a plug-in) hits the sweet spot. Therefore if the Camry electric motors were put into the Prius, according to this theory, it would sell even more.

    Final thought, the Fusion Hybrid, also not yet a plug in hits the sweet spot, so in March of 2013 the Fusion Energi along with C-Max Energi will belong on your list of well designed cars for our culture’s thirst for “more power.”

  • Anonymous

    v8 won’t be extinct, i drink it everyday

    seriously though, how did we survive before v8?

    oh yea… it’s is called v6 😉 coupled with hybrid tech, combined output is practically a v8.

    chrysler is worried because they have not made progress on hybrid vehicles. too bad, so sad. hope gov won’t bail them out this time.

  • Roy_H

    As Tesla has proven so well, an electric car can have both high performance and high economy (and no pollution).

    Many high performance car people are enamored with the loud noise and the ability to input more control through the manual transmission. These people will continue to demand V8 engines, and automakers will be glad to sell them. But for everyone else a better alternative awaits. High performance EVs will eclipse ICEs, so for the group that performance is everything, they will give up the noise. All the auto companies have to do is produce enough hybrid/EVs to meet the mandate, and charge premium price for those wedded to the V8.