Carmakers forced back to bigger engines in new emissions era

October 18, 2016

Carmakers that have spent a decade shrinking engine capacities to meet emissions goals are facing a costly U-turn because of changes in the way vehicles are tested. Renault, General Motors and Volkswagen are preparing to enlarge or scrap some of their best-selling small car engines over the next three years, reports suggest, while other manufacturers are expected to follow, with both diesel and petrol versions affected. For years, carmakers have kept pace with EU carbon dioxide (CO2) targets by shrinking engine capacities and adding turbochargers to make up lost power. Three-cylinder motors below one-litre capacity are offered in a range of cars including C-segment models. Although these engines perform well in current government laboratory tests, in real-world conditions they emit much higher levels of CO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx). Tougher emissions tests are being introduced from next year which will eventually cover real-world emissions of NOx and CO2, in addition to fuel economy. Manufacturers believe larger capacity engines allow more efficient combustion in real-world conditions, which will help cut on-the-road emissions including NOx. General Motors is already predicted to be shelving its current 1.2-litre diesel and the smallest engine in the range will be 25-30% bigger than the lowest capacity engine currently available, Reuters reports. Volkswagen Group is thought to be replacing its 1.4-litre three-cylinder diesel with a four-cylinder 1.6-litre unit for cars including the Polo, while Renault is also planning increases to its smallest engines. Alain Raposo, head of powertrain at the Renault-Nissan alliance, explained: ‘The techniques we've used to reduce engine capacities will no longer allow us to meet emissions standards. We are reaching the limits of downsizing.’

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