Reducing Emissions to Zero

Daniel M. Hancock talks about the changes resulting from alternative fuels and advanced powertrain technologies.


From October 22 - 27, the FISITA 2006 World Automotive Congress will take place in Yokohama, Japan. One of the major topics discussed at the Congress will be the future direction of automotive powertrain technology. Daniel M. Hancock, FISITA President 2004-2006 and Vice President of GM Powertrain Engineering Operations, talks about the changes resulting from alternative fuels and advanced powertrain technologies.

FISITA's mission has always been to advance the technological development of the automobile. Can you give us a brief overview about the latest trends concerning alternative fuels and powertrain technologies?

Automakers continue to stretch to develop vehicles that offer lower emissions, higher fuel economy and do this at a price that the customer is willing to pay. As different regional requirements exist, a broad portfolio of powertrain technology solutions is needed. There really isn't a single silver bullet that satisfies all customers' needs.

In the fields of fuel economy, performance and reduced emissions, advanced internal combustion engines and transmissions are continuing to be further refined and optimized. Examples of powertrain technologies that are available today include cylinder deactivation, cam phasing, charging, port deactivation, direct injection, diesel particulate filters, six-speed transmissions, and more. The combination with electrical power paths is leading to the development of various hybrid systems to satisfy customers' needs. Going forward, those of us in the powertrain industry will build on these technologies and add additional technologies to provide even further fuel economy and emissions improvements.

Alternative fuels such as E85 ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, and liquefied petroleum gas are available in the market today. As FISITA's goals for emissions reduction and diversification of our global energy supply become more ambitious, it will lead to further development of additional alternative fuels. In the long term, with the availability of a hydrogen economy, electrical propulsion systems powered by a fuel cell using hydrogen will be the ultimate solution. Significant technology developments are underway in order to achieve this goal.

At the moment there is a strong desire for clean Diesel engines on the European market, whereas US customers clearly prefer hybrid vehicles. What - in your opinion - will be the leading technology in Europe and the USA in the near future?

The optimum propulsion system will vary depending on the vehicle application and the drive schedule of the vehicle. There are effective technologies to improve fuel economy and performance and reduce emissions for both diesels and hybrids as well as for gasoline engines.

Diesel engines have become fun-to-drive, high torque powertrain solutions in Europe. Combined with their outstanding efficiency and the taxation of the fuel, this has led to the diesel being the flagship powertrain in many European applications with an overall market penetration of about 50 percent. To comply with future emission standards, the complexity of the diesel powertrain needs to be further increased. While this will drive increased cost, the future market share for diesel engines in Europe is likely to remain significant.

In the US, where the exhaust emissions standards are more stringent and the gasoline engine is by far the dominant propulsion for passenger vehicles, hybridization of the powertrain is a very reasonable approach. Diesels have found good acceptance in the full-size, heavy duty pickup truck market.

I think that the market share of diesel and hybrid powertrains will both increase on a global basis. The dominance of one or the other technology in any given market will depend on how the requirements in the regions evolve. Again, there is no silver bullet; we expect these technologies to coexist in the market for some time.

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