This time, probably for good. And now even V-6s are in trouble.
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Hence, Ford is discreetly — but very clearly — moving away from V-8s in its big trucks, such as the full-size F-series pickup. There’s still one available — for the moment. But the rest of the engine lineup — the mass market engine lineup — is all V-6. Ford calls these engines — tellingly — Ecoboost. They’re smaller displacement engines with a turbo (or two) bolted on to provide on-demand power but the better fuel efficiency of a smaller engine the rest of the time.
Turbos — and superchargers — are seen as the only technically feasible way to match (or at least, come close to) the power/performance of V-8s while still making the CAFE cut.
Well, is all this actually bad?
That depends on your perspective.
From the perspective of the automakers, it’s good. Because it gets Uncle off their backs — at least, temporarily — and increases their profit margin, since they simply pass on the costs of the more expensive powertrains (including maintenance costs) to customers.
From our perspective, as consumers, it’s not such a good deal. We pay more up front — and while that will be somewhat mitigated by reduced fuel consumption, those savings may — and probably will be — swept away by down-the-road maintenance and repair costs. Smaller, higher-stressed engines tend not to last as long as larger, less stressed engines. A force-fed (turbocharged or supercharged) engine is not likely to be a trouble-free 150,000 mile engine. Maybe these new-generation turbo’d and supercharged engines are built tougher — and will last longer. Or at least, as long as a similarly powerful, but less stressed, V-8. We’ll see. If they don’t, look out. Replacing a turbo on a late model car is typically a $2,000-plus job. Many of these CAFE-engineered new cars have two of them.
That’s that. Another thing is that the fuel economy gains are often not very impressive — on an individual vehicle basis. For instance, the current Ford F-truck’s available 5 liter V-8 rates 15 city, 21 highway. Not great. But the EcoBoost 3.5 liter V-6 (which makes about the same power as the V-8) comes in just slightly better, with a 16 city, 22 highway rating.
You’d think that extra 1-2 MPG would be irrelevant, but it’s crucial…. CAFE-wise. Ford sells on the order of half a million F-trucks each year. If each one costs Ford (and thus, customers) even as little as $300 more in gas guzzler taxes per vehicle, when multiplied by half a million, that becomes real money, real quickly.
So, here’s what to expect:
V-8s are going to get scarce. And I mean exotic-scarce. Last go’round, CAFE made it a lot harder for a working class person to own a V-8 powered new car. But if you were comfortably middle class, it was still feasible. There were Crown Vics and Town Cars.
Upper middle class, no problem. $50k would do the trick — doable for a professional couple.
This time, V-8s will become the exclusive playthings of the very affluent only — people who can afford to spend $70k-plus for a low-volume (and so, CAFE irrelevant) car. Jaguar, for example, will probably continue to offer a V-8 in the ultra-performance (and ultra-expensive) XF-R version of the XF luxury-sport sedan. Mercedes will still offer V-8s in the E and S Class… for those few who can handle the freight.
What there won’t be anymore are cars like the currently available Chrysler 300 C Hemi and the bet-you-it-gets-canceled-soon Chevy SS; that is, cars — and trucks — for regular people and intended to be sold in volume.
Of course, Obama — and the next Dear Leader — will still get to drive around in cars powered by big V-8s that get far less than 35.5 MPG…with the gas bill paid by taxpayers.
And that’s just the way they want it.
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