Turbocharging, The New Hybrid?

One of the reasons hybrids get good gas mileage is that they allow engineers to use a smaller engine without losing too much performance. The Camry Hybrid, for example, is peppy despite its modest 2.4-liter four-cylinder powerplant. But there are other ways to downsize, and as automakers decide how to meet stricter fuel-efficiency goals, they’re exploring all their options. So it’s no surprise that turbocharged engines are becoming fashionable again.

Turbos work by compressing the air that goes into an engine. Squeezing more air into the cylinder generates more power without making the engine bigger, so a turbocharged V6 may provide as much—or more—power than a conventional V8. But compressing the incoming air, a process car guys call “forced induction,” requires energy. Turbos get that energy from an unlikely source: the car’s exhaust. As hot exhaust gases from the engine race toward the tailpipe, they spin a small impeller that drives the turbo. The result is a little bit like regenerative braking in a hybrid: the turbo recycles some energy that would normally be wasted.

Never driven a turbocharged car? You probably will soon. BMW began turbocharging a few of its mainstream U.S. offerings this year, and other automakers are following suit. General Motors is planning to bring a new turbocharged four-cylinder to the U.S, next year, potentially for use in the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Astra. At 1.4 liters, the engine would be the smallest engine G.M. has offered here in almost 15 years.

Ford has also announced plans to offer turbocharged engines. Ford’s “EcoBoost” technology—a combination of direct injection and turbocharging—yields as much as a 20 percent increase in fuel economy, and is slated to appear on as many as a half-million vehicles during the next five years.

Turbos are a no-brainer for automakers. The technology is mature and cheap—about $250 – $500 per vehicle. And it’s relatively easy to integrate into existing powertrains. That means that during the next few years, we’re likely to see more turbocharged engines than hybrid powertrains. Overall, that should mean our cars use less fuel, which is a good thing. But it remains to be seen whether automakers will view near-term technologies like turbocharging as “good enough” to meet new fuel economy regulations, or whether they will remain committed to investing in longer-term options like hybrids, plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles that yield much greater fuel savings.


  • Jerry

    Assuming it only adds $250 more to a vehicle, why wouldn’t a company add a turbo to an even smaller engine and then link the hybrid technology?

  • T.D.

    This begs the question: Why wasn’t the auto industry doing this before if its a no-brainer????

  • Aron

    Not sure if the logic on this works. A 1.6 liter turbo will always use more gas than a 1.6 non turbo. If the goal is just to save gas, this is not the best option. However, I think this will work if you compare horsepower to horsepower. In otherwords, if the goal is to produce a powerful car with good gas mileage than a turbo 1.6 liter producing 205 horsepower is probably going to give you a little better gas mileage than a v6 3 liter producing the same 205 horsepower. So if replacing large displacement engines with smaller tubo charged engines that will produce the same horsepower is the goal you can probably reap a small benefit.

  • CardInAustin

    Turbos are notorious for maintenance problems. So, my guess is that is was not a “no-brainer” b/c the public has been more ready to purchase displacement than mpg if relaibility was an issue.

    Just a hunch.

  • Andy

    Turbos have side effects. The larger the turbo charger, the longer it takes to spin it up to speed and start the power boost, so when you hit the pedal, there is moderate acceleration for 2-3 seconds after which a rapidly increase of power floods in. This is known as “turbo lag.” Therefore they lag “off the line”. BMW has recently talked of adding a dual inline turbo system which adds an additional small light turbo that kicks in quickly until the heavy duty turbo can catch up. (http://www.bmw.com/com/en/insights/technology/technology_guide/articles/mm_variable_twin_turbo_diesel.html)

    So while they can add power to match a larger displacement, the power is not delivered immediately, so from a purely performance standpoint, they are inferior. They also place more wear on the engine similar to other efficiency improvements like higher RPM.

    But for suitable applications, that is an acceptable price to pay. Advantages (I think) are higher power/weight and power/gallon and lower cost/power. They have been around for some time in Euro imports such as the VW/Audi TDI series, and Audi’s smaller power A4′s.

  • Armand

    Turbocharging will be a VERY BAD idea for fuel usage and consumption. The way people drive today in general, there will be nothing but full throttle accelerations and turbos lit up 80-90% of the time. A turbo is efficient ONLY if it’s barely being used. That will not be the case for 99% of drivers.

    It’s a very very stupid idea.

  • stockcub101

    Yes the auto industry does make it seem like turbos are the next big which i agree with if we were only looking at the next year or so. It is not a permaneant fix. i also believe that it is ruining what we already have. Companys are now going to be dumping money into turbos where it should be used to advance our hyrid and alternative fuel projects . another point is that it is cheap to put in a turbocharger and these companies don’t have to totally change their assembly lines saving them money which is why turbos are being hyped up. I believe that a turbo should only be used in diesels and even that i dont agree with. if companies want to save money right now and help our enviroment they should invest in cng cars . COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS, though still uses gas a cng engine doubles!!!!!!!! the fuel efficientcy of normal gas engines. if companies start to make cng cars the fueling infastructure will change. this idea is a long term temporary solution that makes everyone happy for the “time being”

  • Mark A.

    They are, just look at the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is touting a 1.0L turbocharged engine in addition to the electric motor.

  • Indigo

    C’mon! The Volt is a terrible example! There is not even one functioning prototype Volt in existence and GM will probably sell off the e-flex technology to the oil companies the same way they did with the EV1.

  • Ed M

    My family has owned three Saabs beginning with 1986 SPG which would do an honest 130 mph. Living in MN, it rusted out at 190k, but the turbo was still fine. This was one of the fastest cars made. 2.1 liter engine.

    Next one is a 1993 9000 CS, still going strong at 253k, no Turbo problems. 2.3 liter engine.

    Current car is a 2001 9-5 wagon with 45k. no Turbo problems here. 2.3 liter engine.

    As long as you change the oil on schedule the turbo should last the life of the car. Mileage has been in the mid to high twenties. As long as you don’t push the car, the turbo doesn’t degrade the milage; Saab has a great solution to the high mileage/performance issue using a small displacement engine.

  • Charles

    I had a 1999 VW Passat wagon with a 1.8 liter turbo charged engine. The turbo was small and spun up quickly. There was very little turbo lag (like in a 1966 Corvair Corsa). The fuel economy was just a bit under my current Focus wagon, which is smaller, but has a larger less powerful 2.3 liter engine.

    I think there are two reasons for going turbo. First you can lower the weight of the car for the same power. A turbo and a smaller engine can weigh less when compared to a larger engine for the same power. The second is that if you stay at lower RPM, the turbo barely works, but is there to provide power (reserve power) when needed for hard acceleration.

  • T White

    The main advantage of a turbocharged gasoline engine is in its horsepower to weight ratio. Also an increase in mechanical efficiency is realized if a four cylinder turbocharged engine is used in place of a larger six or eight cylinder engine. As far as lag is concerned, not a real problem with the smaller turbos used on engines in the two to three liter range. To me, the main disadvantage for a turbocharged vehicle is the need for premium grade gas. I’ve been considering buying a Mazda CX-7. But every time I drive past a gas station, and compare the price of unleaded with the price of premium, I wonder if that’s such a good idea.

  • José Freire

    In Europe, 50% of the vehicles are Turbo Diesel engines.

    I really don’t understand the need for V6 and V8 engines.

    We have 3 Cylinder 1.4 engines with 100 Horse Power, and 4 Cylinder 2.0 engines with 150 Horse Power.

    A 100 Horse Power engine get’s me to 200Km/h (125 miles/h).

    More than enough to get me arrested for speeding.

  • domboy

    You guys need to quite bashing anything that isn’t a hybrid. Of course a smaller turbo engine is a good idea. Why? Unless you can convince the population to buy cars with low horsepower engines, the only way were going to get people to buy smaller engines is to make them really powerful and fast. A turbo is a good way to do this. And it’s cheap, proven technology. I own a VW with a 1.9l turbo diesel engine, and it’s got great acceleration, gets 45mpg, no hybrid powertrain needed. My friends VW 1.8T turbo gasoline engine is even faster, but they’re both 4 cylinder engines. True, his requires premium gasoline. But we’re all going to have to pay for efficiency one way or another.

  • G. Kadey

    And why the need for more power! More power more fuel used.

  • Just Me…

    Is it the fact that the air is compressed or that the compressed air by volume contains more oxygen that increases the power from combustion of the same amount of fuel ? (I’m no engineer or chemist…)

    If it’s more oxygen – can they make a nanotech filter that only allows oxygen through to be combusted with the fuel – and skip the lag issues ? Would that work on all vehicles using petro products safely, or would we screw up the nitrogen/air percentage mix of our environment so badly we’d be better off with the nitrous oxides we get now ?

  • Armand

    DOM:

    No the way we are going to convince people to buy cars with low HP is to make them light and efficient…a concept that the automakers have no clue anymore how to do. They’ve lost their way.

    Automakers have been selling us gimmicks and toys for the last 2 decades…crap we don’t need, safety features that add little to no benefit after you consider how much heavier and larger everything has become. They’ve been feeding us crap and bullshit and we’ve been having it shoved down our throats like good little sheep.

    The biggest and most influential variable to fuel economy is weight….not turbos, not hybrids, not diesels…it’s weight. IC engines have reached a plateau of efficiency. From this point on, there will be only incremental advances and improvements. Coupling the current types of engines to LIGHTER, BETTER DESIGNED chassis’s, less overkill in safety, SMALLER CARS (not retarted cars like Excursions, Expeditions, etc..cars for the truly mentally challenged), we’d probably have already been able to hit the 35MPG fleet average set to be hit 12 years from now???

    What a joke…

  • Peter Bowler

    One thing I do not like about turbochargers is that they usually require the use of premium fuel. This fact adds a 20-25 cent per gallon of fuel “surcharge” to ownership and it adds up significantly over the years. There may be turbos that do not require premium, but I have not personally seen them. We have two such cars now and often mix tanks half and half premium and regular to reduce the overall cost. I am not certain of the long term implications to engine durability with this strategy, but the loss of performance is noticeable. I’d be interested to read comments from more knowledegeable people on this aspect of turbocharging.

  • Desertlife

    Turbo-charging has and does work well with Hybrid technology however, there are drawbacks. As a Honda Insight driver, and an active member on insightcentral.com, I have been able to follow a handful of members that have successfully installed a turbo system on the Honda Insight. At $1500 – $2000 the added cost and components are another variable to the equation of mileage versus vehicle cost and maintenance. Most of the members I’ve followed have seen an increase in mileage as well as increased performance.
    My experience with turbo charged cars has been that:

    Performance/efficiency increases

    Longevity decreases

    Repair intervals and expense increase

    It’s very welcoming to hear the report of the Saab going well over 100,000 miles with no issues. Most of my turbo experience has been with performance cars (Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Mazda RX-7) and those seem to be lucky to get 60,000 before having turbo issues. And believe me, it’s well into the thousands of dollars when they do. I’m making an assumption that these performance cars are making higher boost values that a Saab or Hybrid would use for economy thus, shortened life would be expected.

    On another note, turbo-charged semi trucks and even 1 ton pickups (diesel) seam to be getting great reliability with mileage increases and experience acceptable longevity. However, longevity is inherent to the higher lubricity of diesel fuel so that is an apples to oranges comparison.

    Sense this is a blog and we’re sharing opinions. Here’s my take on the situation. Being a hybrid buyer/owner, I will probably not consider a turbo-charged hybrid. The added expense of one repair could very well negate and savings in any mileage gain. However weigh my opinion that my net car will probably not be a hybrid. With my Insight I purchased an extended warranty (100,000 miles) but, I don’t have the confidence to keep the car past 100,000 now. To Honda’s credit, I couldn’t ask for better reliability and they are being very good to customers that have battery issues even beyond the factory warranty but at some point they have to make money as a company. They cannot continue to eat $5000 battery issues for ever.

    My Ex has a Hybrid Civic. We also bought the extended warranty on it. It recently dropped a CVT transmission on the ground at 98,000 miles. At $4500 (plus labor) for a new transmission (covered under the 100,000 extended warranty) and the thought of having battery issues that routinely see a $5000 bill I can’t take the chance of owning a hybrid not under warranty. Now add in the factor of having possible turbo issues with repairs reaching into the thousands, no thanks.

    So, you ask, what’s my next car? I’m not sure. I would possibly consider the Smart car, maybe a stripped down Honda Civic, Mazda Miata, or other normally-aspirated, manual transmission compact or possibly even a motorcycle.

    My stats: I drive up a 3500ft grade daily and rack up approximately 25,000 per year in southern California.

  • Ed M

    (1) the Saab SPG had an inter-cooler & wastegate and was quite high performance.

    (2)The three Saabs my family owned all required premium fuel. they never saw anything but regular fuel. The anti-knock sensor retarded the timing and the performance suffered a bit, but not so much anyone really cared. Obviously, for top performance the higher octane fuel is better. As to the turbo longevity, in the earlier cars if you’ve ran the car very, very hard and didn’t idle the engine to allow the oil to circulate through the turbo for 45 seconds to cool off the bearings, they could coke up. One had to use a bit of common sense. More recent Saabs do not have this problem.

  • domboy

    Nozferatu

    You said “the way we are going to convince people to buy cars with low HP is to make them light and efficient…a concept that the automakers have no clue anymore how to do. They’ve lost their way”

    Problem – first you have to convince people to buy these light efficient cars. People still seem to think bigger=better/safer, more horsepower=better, etc. I think it’s the buyers, not the automakers, who have lost their way.

  • Bruce

    Unfortunately this article is typical of poorly researched technical information. There is no evidence that turbo-charged engines are more efficient than conventionally aspirated engines. They CAN produce more horsepower in a smaller displacement but this usually comes at the cost of additional fuel consumption. Horsepower simply takes energy.

    It is diffficult to comment on the Ford “ecoboost” system as of yet but often the hype of these systems is never attained in reality.

    By way of example (in a real world comparison), the 2007 Acura RDX is a 2.4 litre turbocharged engine that makes 240 hp. It’s EPA consumption is 19/24 mpg. The comparable Toyota Rav4 can be eqipped with a 3.5 litre V6 which produces 270 hp. The Rav4 has EPA consumption of 21/28 mpg and the Rav4 has significantly better acceleration. The curb weight of the Rav4 is a bit lighter which does help its performance and clearly this one example does not speak to all possibile comparisons.

    Turbo charging may one component in finding the right balance of power and efficiency. However, clearly turbocharging is NOT a magic silver bullit for performance AND efficiency at the same time.

    It’s amazing how a little head-line like the one used in this article can cause so much confusion. We need to be much more accurate in our reporting if we expect people to make informed decisions based on solid information.

  • Andrew Harmsworth

    When I bought my HCH 5 years ago, the first thing a friend said was “but why isn’t it Turbo-charged as well?”.

    I wonder why.

  • Eric

    This isn’t new. I rememeber a few years back talk of a system by Volvo: A supercharger and a turbocharger in conjuntion with several wastegates, that in combination with a computer, could achieve huge efficiency gains. But like I said, that was a few years ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.

  • Armand

    DOM:

    I disagree. The average buyer is clueless…you sell them shit, they’ll buy shit. People are too dumb and stupid to understand. A perfect case in point is the large, overweight piles of crap Americans drive.

    Automakers are shoving this stuff down our throat…it’s cheaper to build cars based on brute force design than efficient, high developed designs. They’ve have to spend ALOT more money developing a light, aluminum alloy, super safe chassis, cage instead of a steel alloy, overdesigned, overweight pile.

    Case in point…there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that a VW GTI should weigh over 3000 lbs…it’s ludicrous.

    The bigger=better concept wasn’t created in the consumer’s brain..it was implanted into it by the advertisers and manufacturers. Say a lie long enough and people will believe it.

  • sarat

    You are right.

    1. Turbochargers increase hp and so have a reduction in fuel consumption. They operate at ‘higher’ RPMS more effectively, and so they are good for power. Therefore, it is wise to use smaller engine with TC so overall gain.

    2. I’m from India and I have no clue about the need for higher grade gas for TC engines. (can anybody elaborate?)

    3. Its true that the people in US and europe use gas-guzzling V6s and V8s.. even their I4s are large, giving away too much power, which is not used anyways. THe people never drive upto such high speeds!!! This high performance comes at the cost of reduction in power& efficiency at lower RPMs … so if the general perception changes, people can as well buy hybrid TC cars with flatter torque curves… the way to go for the future …IMO

  • BDC

    Higher octane fuel is used to prevent knocking. If the car has a system to prevent knocking or pre-ignition in the cylinders through the use of sensors and pressure control at the turbo the car doesn’t need premium fuel. It is a simple system actually. I have been running my Saab (115,000 miles) on regular fuel for a year and have had no problems with it. I regularly average in the high twenties for fuel economy in mixed highway/city driving and have broken 40MPG on several long trips.

    Turbo charging increases the efficiency in several ways. Mostly, the exhaust side of the turbo reclaims energy in the form of heat and momentum of the exhausted air and transfers that energy to the intake. In my thermodynamic class for mechanical engineering we did an analysis of why a hybrid is more efficient than a traditional internal combustion car. The gains of a consumer level hybrid are primarily seen in the city because of the generation and storage of electrical energy during braking and because the internal combustion engine rarely idles. A gallon of gas only has so much energy. The energy from that gas to mechanical motion or electricity is still converted using an internal combustion engine. Hybrids will actually work quite well in heavier vehicles in the city, for example buses or trucks. Hybrid technology has been in diesel locomotives for a long time due to the high efficiency and torque capabilities of electric motors at low rpms as compared to internal combustion engines.

    Turbo charging is a well established technology. Maintenance is about the same as a normally aspirated engine except the turbos typically require synthetic oil. This actually reduces the dependency on petroleum.

    From the point of view of money, Turbos are cheaper than a full on hybrid. It is unlikely that you will see any benefit monetarily from a hybrid in the first 5 years or so of ownership due to a higher initial cost. If you are frustrated by how much you spend on fuel, Edmunds.com says that fuel economy can be increased up to 37% by changing your driving style. That is better than any mechanical improvement available today.

    There is no one method of improving efficiency that is going to be the fix all for automobiles. A combination of technologies like variable timing, variable compression ratios, hybrid electrics, and others will indeed improve economy, but again will only get so far.

  • Dana

    Turbo’s are a great idea! I’ve been looking at adding an aftermarket electric supercharger to my next car. Check out e-racing.com !!!!! Also, why don’t they start making cars out of aluminum? Delorean had a great idea with the “Back to the Future car” I’ve worked as an auto mechanic for 10 yrs and had to push many a vehicle into the shop with no-start problems. Ever try to push a vehicle made out of steel vs. one made from aluminum? It’s just a no-brainer ! Goes to show you how many brains are inside the auto manufactures in Detroit. They must still be trying to figure out how to change a lightbulb with less than two people. Oh, and the Chevy Volt??? You can forget on that one.

  • Suneet B. Sabale

    Hi All,

    According to the law of conservation of energy, neither energy can be create nor it could be destroyed, total amount of energy in the universe always remains constant.
    The vehicles using at least two different types of energy sources such has a combination of gas power with electric power and the like are called as hybrid vehicle. For example, a hybrid car using gas power system and electric power system. In which, the gas power system is used for driving the vehicle as well as to charge batteries used to store electric energy for used with electric power system. Some energy of the gas power system is always used to charge the batteries, which will be used later for drive the vehicle.
    Considering, the aforesaid technology.
    Hybrid vehicles may not save a quantum amount of fuel.
    Reducing fuel wastage or reducing the size of the engine to produce greater power is always a good option.
    The turbo technology may be the future technology for all the vehicles powered by gas or the like, instead of hybrid technology.

    Thanks,

    Suneet

  • Suneet B. Sabale

    Hi All,

    According to the law of conservation of energy, neither energy can be create nor it could be destroyed, total amount of energy in the universe always remains constant.
    The vehicles using at least two different types of energy sources such has a combination of gas power with electric power and the like are called as hybrid vehicle. For example, a hybrid car using gas power system and electric power system. In which, the gas power system is used for driving the vehicle as well as to charge batteries used to store electric energy for used with electric power system. Some energy of the gas power system is always used to charge the batteries, which will be used later for drive the vehicle.
    Considering, the aforesaid technology.
    Hybrid vehicles may not save a quantum amount of fuel.
    Reducing fuel wastage or reducing the size of the engine to produce greater power is always a good option.
    The turbo technology may be the future technology for all the vehicles powered by gas or the like, instead of hybrid technology.

    Thanks,

    Suneet

  • bigbrian1980

    Its a nice to know that we will have a turbocharging on hybrids. Autopartswarehouse.com will like to know that so they can put better performance parts.

  • honeymoon

    Great read. Do you mind if I reference this in our next newsletter?

  • Anonymous

    what the hell! I click on a link to find out who to convert my 2.3 liter turbo engine to natural gas and I come here.

  • WDC freak

    Well turbo is an amzing technology the, i did know all this stuff earlier. thanks for sharing. fuel efficiency simply means you can save considerable dough every month :)

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