Monday, October 19, 2020

4 features I consider hard to explain regarding Volvo's T8 hybrid powertrain

I must confess hybrids are not exactly my cup of tea, even though it seems like there is no turning back from them anymore. Some models such as the Volvo V60 now don't even offer a turbodiesel anymore, and it even became more frequent to see a hybrid than a gasoline-only version, which is also leading to an opportunity to take a look at some features that might be hard to explain when it comes to Volvo's current approach to hybrid powertrains. Regarding the T8 rating, which is available only as a hybrid, there are at least 4 features seemingly opposed to the "environmental" approach hybrids are supposed to be all about:

1 - the "twincharger": while the engine-driven supercharger might provide a reasonable boost from launch to around 3500 RPM, and then the exhaust-driven turbocharger does all the job when it comes to forced induction, it's worth to notice the increase on parasitic drag from the supercharger and its drive, which is somewhat more objectionable as it may be desirable to keep the engine at lower load during normal operating conditions driving on the speed limits. Since the presence of the supercharger is not taken benefit to allow the engine to operate within the Miller cycle, which resorts to a longer intake timing advacing through compression stroke in order to emulate the Atkinson effect while the forced induction prevents the charge air intake to escape, eventually it would make more sense resorting to the PowerPulse system fitted to the Diesel twin-turbo D5 engines which resorts to a compressed-air impeller for the turbocharging in order to overcome turbo-lag with the air being supplied through an electric-driven compressor on board;

2 - absence of flexfuel capability: due to the "sustainability" premises, it would make sense to have a provision for the vehicle to be capable to operate on a renewable fuel along the more usual gasoline, with ethanol capability being somewhat reasonable to expect from a modern spark-ignited engine. Not only it has a cleaner combustion process, turbocharged engines fitted with direct injection provide ideal conditions to narrow the efficiency gap per fuel volume between gasoline and ethanol, as they lead to a safer increase on compression ratio while operating with gasoline and easier cold starts while running on ethanol;

3 - keeping the same automatic transmission of non-hybrid versions: while it could either take benefit from the instant torque output of electric motors to get no gearbox at all, enabling them to act as a CVT just like Toyota and Lexus hybrids usually do through their Hybrid Synergy Drive setup, or to use some other automatic or automated-manual transmission more optimized for overall efficiency, it just retains the same 8-speed automatic shared with the non-hybrid T4, T5 and T6 versions. Sure it would be harder to expect the option for a manual transmission, as an automatic leads to a smoothier transition from EV mode to combined electric and gasoline power, but other setups predictably more in line with the usual expectations for hybrids would be more favored by fuel-efficiency and emission regulations;

4 - seemingly lack of motivation to benefit from a Freevalve design: even though the mainstream automakers usually tend to take breakthrough tech with a grain of salt, most noticeably when there is a need for a licensing from a smaller engineering outlet, its hybrid range would be a perfect receiver for the Freevalve technology, not only because it would allow the usage of a simpler port-injection and to get rid of the particulate filter, but also due to eventually making it easier to alternate from 4-stroke to 2-stroke under specific conditions as the presence of the supercharger could serve to provide a more efficient scavenging just like on 2-stroke Diesel engines.

Monday, October 05, 2020

2nd-generation Peugeot 208 made in Argentina: only one engine option doesn't match regional needs and preferences

Released with a delay after its European counterpart, the Mercosur-bound version of the 2nd-generation Peugeot switched the manufacturing base from Brazil to Argentina, relying only on the old EC5 engine in an ethanol-capable flexfuel trim for the Brazilian market while other countries receive it tuned to use only gasoline. Besides the absence of a turbodiesel engine, which used to be much sought after even on compact cars in Argentina, it's also noticeable the fitment of an automatic transmission as standard and only a naturally-aspirated engine with greater displacement than its European counterparts which resort to the smaller EB2 engine available as a naturally-aspirated with manual transmission and turbocharged versions also including the option for an automatic transmission. Considering both the brand perception of Argentinians who don't really see Peugeot as somewhat premium, while in Brazil it tries to recover a prestige it used to get when imported cars flooded the local market in the early '90s attempting to take over the middle and upper-class customers, it would actually make some sense to retain the same EB2 of its European counterpart.

While the higher purchase cost of a turbodiesel inherent to the increasingly sophisticated aftertreatment becomes troublesome for a country with a severely troubled economy as Argentina is at the moment, a strong market for natural gas conversions is more favorable to the EC5 and would also be to the basic naturally-aspirated EB2 due to the usage of port-injection, instead of the direct injection which is fitted to the turbocharged variants of the smaller engine. And since the 1.2L EB2 is slotted right above a more favorable displacement class up to 1.0L for taxation purposes in Brazil, just like the 1.6L EC5 does, it could be at a first glance rendered less competitive against the direct-injection turbocharged flexfuel 1.0L engine offerings from Chevrolet, Volkswagen and Hyundai and unlikely to set a foothold as the higher manufacturing cost of a downsized engine compared to a more traditional counterpart is not so easily amortized through a tax break, even though the Mercosur agreement gives Argentinian-made cars a different tax break in Brazil. It's also worth noticing similar models from other manufacturers which are available in Brazil in 1.0L naturally-aspirated or turbocharged and larger-displacement naturally-aspirated versions only go to Argentina with the biggest engine for the very same reason, as such more favorable taxation scheme is absent there.

While a naturally-aspirated trim of the EB2 could be more valued by Argentinian customers as long as the purchase cost remained lower and a manual transmission would be retained, and some turbocharged variants would be more appreciated in Brazil due to the technology and "sportiness" appeal with a good marketing perspective for the availability of both manual and automatic transmission options, retaining the EC5 and automatic-only becomes an objectionable one-size-fits-all approach. The total absence of turbodiesel options, which could at a first moment sound quite predictable as it's not allowed for cars in Brazil and nowadays seems too expensive for a small car in Argentina, can also be counted as another mistake somehow. Overlooking all the complexity of South American car markets as a whole, ignoring specific aspects of each country in the region and how to better address such conditions, often leads to a poor decision-making which may have a troublesome reflex on the actual marketing perspectives for an otherwise good product, and right now it seems to be what happens to the 2nd-generation Peugeot 208 even though it's too soon to be sure about it failing or receiving a better-adjusted selection of engines.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Would a mild-hybrid version of the 1.3L Firefly engine make sense if Fiat ever brings the Strada back to Europe?

With the recent release of the 2nd generation of the Fiat Strada in Brazil and regional export markets across Latin America, and recent changes in European legislation favoring pick-up trucks, it may sound like a good opportunity to reintroduce this nameplate to Europe. Even though it doesn't feature any turbodiesel engine option anymore, relying on SOHC versions with 2 valves per cylinder of the 1.4L FIRE in basic and intermediate trims with both cabin styles while the Volcano available only with double cab resorts to the 1.3L Global Small Engine a.k.a. Firefly, this may not be so much of a problem. Due to economics of scale, I would expect only one of those engines to fin an eventual Euro-spec range of the new Strada, most likely the Firefly which is gradually replacing the FIRE, and the recent release of a mild-hybrid variant of the 1.0 GSE for subcompacts in Europe may be a sign of what Fiat could do in order to make the Strada available there once again.
Its more utilitarian nature and the aim to budget-conscious Latin American markets may justify the use of sequential port injection and 2 valves per cylinder, in a contrast with the DOHC layout with 4 valves per cylinder and direct injection already fitted to the mild-hybrid 1.0 and the turbocharged versions of either the 1.0 or the 1.3 engines already fitted to Euro-spec versions of other Fiat and Jeep vehicles, yet it could also justify in Europe. Besides leading to a good low-end torque which is more important for it than for a Fiat 500 for example, it's worth to notice port injection leads to a colder charge air intake which is beneficial under the operating conditions it will usually find among professional operators, and not require the expense of a particle filter which is now widespread on Euro-spec and US-spec vehicles with a spark-ignited direct-injection engine. The modularity which allowed the Firefly engines to cover the 1.0L displacement range with a 3-cylinder layout while the 1.3L ones resort to 4 cylinders also leads the process of developing a mild-hybrid trim for the largest one to be quite a straightforward deal, even if it keeps the simpler cylinder head design and injection pattern of the current Fiat Strada.