MCE-5 VCRi: Pushing back the fuel consumption reduction limits

It manages risk

MCE‑5 VCRi: a technology well suited
to all scenarii, from the most likely to the least likely

Early on in this new century, there are major uncertainties hanging over the future of the automobile industry. What fiscal measures will be taken to limit CO2 emissions? What are the precise objectives in terms of CO2 emissions per km? What will the price of fuel be in 2020, 2025 or even 2030? In what state will the economy be in 10, 20 or 30 years? It's difficult to know what market trends, fashions or end user aspirations will be that far into the future. We don't know what Diesel's market share will be, nor what the market penetration of hybrids will be or how electrical drive will have evolved. Will we see the development of the market for low-cost vehicles, inevitably produced and even designed in low-cost countries? Will we know how to focus on high-technology vehicles that are alone able to protect industrial activity in the west? Will carmakers have to merge and create "mega alliances" or will they, on the contrary, stay at reasonable sizes, maintain flexibility and find "contextual" and "opportunistic" alliances without any long-term commitments?

How much will a barrel of crude oil cost in
10, 20 or 30 years? Will we really be obliged
to consume essentially non-petroleum fuels?

What will the market share of each technology be?
(EUCAR - CO2 reduction benefit from well to wheel)

For Ferdinand Piech, former CEO of Volkswagen,
the concentration of carmakers is inevitable and
"only 5 or 6 carmakers will remain worldwide"

Small differences in CO2/km emissions will have
a substantial impact on carmaker market share
and automobile market distribution

The only thing we're sure of is that the future is being prepared today in a voluntary or imposed way. The technological directions taken in 2010 will lead automotive companies toward a more or less bright future. Rather like the chicken and the egg, the context will make certain technologies relevant and they in turn will modify the context. Leverage, boomerang or other chain reaction effects are potentially everywhere. So what are the technological programs that can bring hope for the next 2 or 3 decades, bearing in mind that a "serious" program requires at least 10 to 15 years of effort before delivering its results? How can the risk linked to errors in judgment be managed?

The first strategy involves having "finger" in all the technological "pies" in which the competition will play out, from the most likely to the least likely fields.

The top of the list of the highest priorities: the IC engine whose domination is assured for at least 20 to 30 more years. The internal combustion engine, which currently represents 100% of the automotive market, remains the only converter of primary energy on board vehicles. It consumes oil whose global extraction is 135 tons per second and whose cost price at the refinery outlet is just above 3-euro cents per kilowatt-hour (not including taxes). Its commercial supremacy is not threatened for these simple reasons. If the automobile were to move towards the centralized conversion of primary energy and the use of "vectors" like electricity or hydrogen, the lead times required to set up new energy production, distribution and maintenance infrastructures would leave enough time for each carmaker to adapt. Regardless of the scenario, these radically different models will mean that courageous carmakers will have to put up with all the initial problems while the others, the followers, will be able to learn from their experience. The strategic validity of these different approaches remains to be proven, which may take some time since we have to wait until the context becomes favorable for them.

Coming back to the IC engine that is at the heart of the matter, small differences in energy efficiency will lead to large differences in profitability. Indeed, for most of the population, CO2 emissions will gradually become the main decision criteria when buying a car. This "prioritization" of the CO2 criteria will first come from the leverage effect caused by the fiscal penalties linked to greenhouse gas emissions and then from the price of the fuel itself. Hence, the commercial warfare between carmakers will be replaced by another more implacable one where they will have to resist the offensive attacks coming from tax legislation, energy prices and regulations. The counterattack must be technological and IC engines capable of "reaching" for those last grams of CO2/km will have to be developed, since it is those last grams that will decide the outcome of the battle. The more the IC thermal engine is able to eliminate those additional grams of CO2, the less it will be necessary to add electrical devices (hybrid). Indeed, the grams of CO2 "thermally" eliminated are up to 10 times less costly than the grams of CO2 "electrically" eliminated. For carmakers, each gram of CO2/km "thermally" eliminated will be worth its weight in gold and will allow them to best place their pawns on the chessboard of competition.

VCR will be an essential weapon to win this war. All other things being equal, a VCR engine will always be more effective than a fixed compression ratio engine to reach those last grams of CO2/km in an "economical" way, i.e. remaining within the scope of the IC engine itself. Not being in a position to produce VCR engines will be synonymous with the risk of exposure to market sanctions, higher than normal fiscal charges and a loss in profitability.

Today, for different functional, industrial and economic reasons, MCE‑5 VCRi remains the only engine capable of guaranteeing the effectiveness of VCR. As a result, MCE‑5 VCRi manages an essential risk, the one that involves missing out on the ultimate technological evolution of the reciprocating internal combustion engine: the variable compression ratio.