SVC – DOA? OMG!

Here’s hoping this ain’t as simple as it seems.

EduSaab, over at Saab Central has posted a story hinting at the fact that the Saab Variable Compression engine program might be officially dead in the water.  I don’t have a link to his source article, but the SC link above will take you to the thread.

Here’s the summary and the scary bit:

European automakers are trying to wring every possible fuel-economy advance from gasoline engines to meet upcoming, tougher European Union CO2 emission levels….

….Fuel efficiency can be improved up to 14 percent with variable compression ratio, or VCR — enough to offset much of the fuel-consumption advantage of diesel engines…..Some engineers foresee VCR commercial use by 2010. Some don’t…..

There’s a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with regard to the varying levels of fuel efficiency gains that could be expected.  Some expect great things and some expect less.  One of the big hurdles seems to be reliability.

Saab also developed a VCR concept, but GM halted development. GM instead uses a cylinder cut-off system, "displacement on demand."

"We stopped VCR because of various problems, including cylinder seals," said a GM spokesman.

Engine development is a tricky thing, I’d say (OK, understatement of the year).  Engines nowadays are quite sophisticated units and are getting better at extracting more from less.  The benefits of the SVC engine were improved fuel efficiency and the ability to extract a marked boost in power when you needed it.  The problem is that it costs a bucketload to develop this stuff and conventional engine development is catching up with you the whole time.

Here’s hoping that the program is still on track somehow.  That GM spokesman could be referring to a previous incarnation of the program.  The picture above comes from some test mules that Saab were running some time ago.  But there’s been new technologies and new patents in this field.  Saab was awarded a new patent for variable compression technology just earlier this year.

I posted an article back in September called SVC Thoughts that pretty much sums up most people’s feelings on this.  It’ll be a real shame if it has been canned.

None of the problems with SVC engine that were mentioned above seem insurmountable if you apply the advanced knowledge that a company like GM should have at it’s disposal. Are you really going to try and convince me that Europe’s top scientists and engineers can’t solve a gasket problem? Really? Because I have a hunch that there’s some decent 12th grade science classes that could take this on for a year-long project and come up with a solution.

Others have opined in comments both here and elsewhere, that this concept deserves a second look . Think of the benefits! First up there’s the benefit to the motorist of having good fuel economy plus the torque curve and total output of an engine twice the size. Second up there’s the global recognition of pioneering a technology that breaks totally new ground like this. It’s got to be marketing gold. OK, you may need to test it for several years and make sure that you can apply a decent warranty to it, but if it works it’s manna from heaven.

As an aside, the SVC Thoughts article also includes my first reference to the Viggen I bought, which was on Ebay at the time.  I was fairly sceptical about my chances with the Viggen, but looked what happened!  Maybe the same could be true of this pioneering technology.

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10 Comments

  1. Of course GM halted development. They did not fall so incredibly far behind the Japanese and European car makers by chance! People who have spoken up about their lack of investment in technology are ignored or, in the case of Ross Perot, bought out to shut-up.

    The 2003 Chevy Impala my wife’s company gives her to drive has a push-rod-rocker iron block engine straight out of the 1950’s.

    Any news on the Porsche thing? They would probably see some value in the technology unless they’ve already developed something better.

  2. Jeez, these project see-saw back and forth all the time. Wait 20 minutes and it’ll be back on.

    As far as GM falling behind the Euros and the Japanese, I wouldn’t be making fun of the GM pushrod V-8/V-6 architecture. Quite good for daily driving and the longevity is remarkable. Think about it: how many 1980 model Honda/Toyota/Nissan cars do you see? Not many. On the other hand, there are plenty of Oldmobiles and Pontiacs that old that I see every day. Not the most advanced technology, but it’s effective.

    I think that the real issue with GM has been the lack of lustre. That is, they’ve not made cars that people really want in a very long time. Of course, Hummers and Corvettes are excluded. How many people really set out to buy an Impala? Or Cavalier for crying out loud! This had very little to do with the powerplant and everything to do with the mediocre styling and lousy ergonomics.

    These things continue: I rented a Pontiac Grand Prix for a week last month and it drove pretty well and had very good leather seats. However, the dash was strictly old-school technology and look. When will GM learn that the crappy-looking Delco stereos have to go? And that people want a great design, not flashy oversized gew-gaws that shout “look at me!!!”?

  3. Bram, if anything happens with Porsche you can rest assured that we won’t know anything about it until it’s done. I’ll be like the Subaru sale.

    As for design- well, if it’s timeless like the c900 it can last for a long time without appearing too dated. Interiors like those in a lot of garden variety cars date real quick though. Makes sense to do it right and do it once (every 10 or so years).

  4. We’ve found the opposite it terms of longevity. At 95K miles, the Chevy is dying! What little power it had is gone and the gas mileage has moved from bad to terrible. We have done all the scheduled maintenance and tried to care for the car to no avail.

    We own a ’99 Nissan Maxima (with the engine that always wins the award). That car runs better than ever at 100K miles. I really like our new Saab – hope it lasts like the Nissan, not the Chevy.

  5. Old V6’s and V8’s may be reliable but what GM and Ford (and americans in general) doesn’t seem understand is that we cant go on using old engines that drink over a liter per 10/km. The oil prices as they are today is just a start, they will not go back down as demand will increase when China and India starts getting more and more people who can afford their own car… at least this is what I think will happen.

  6. Mats,

    Many Americans already appreciated fuel economy – look at sales of Honda, VW, Nissan, and Toyota here. Many others got a nasty shock at the pumps this year as they refueled their SUV’s and are looking to downsize.

    GM and Ford are rushing to make more efficient SUV’s since they have totally lost the sedan market here.

  7. Bram:

    I truly believe your Chevrolet to be anomolous – my 1999 Pontiac Bonneville did 125K before I sold it to a barber that works about 1.5 miles from me and he’s had it going for about 3 years since; I saw it just yesterday. My father’s Chevy S10 has survived 21 years and 203k miles AND a direct hit from a deer at 25 miles per hour! Of course, practically nothing else works at this point (no A/C, no radio, etc.) and the red paint is oxidized to the point of embarassment, but it’s handy to have for those times when you really need a beater to haul stuff. (For the record, my current Ford Taurus has 103k on the clock and feels as if it would go another 100.)

    And, Mats: You need to quit listening to the “journalists” looking for sensational stories that make catchy headlines. I have three vehicles — a Saab C900 convertible (2.0 l), my wife’s Toyota RAV4 (1.8 l) and my Taurus (3.0 l). Reasonable. Most Americans are. It’s the few dorks among us that make things look bad. And, if you’re going to respond with some statistic that says that the SUVs are the best-selling US vehicles or something similar, I’ll save you the trouble. The next time that you see something written like that, ask yourself: Did the information presented show the whole picture? Or did they segment that information to show what they wanted to show? It’s the latter a great deal of the time. True, we need to tighten up over here, but most of us get it.

  8. I hope our Chevy is a bad example for GM’s sake. I actually worked on a GM assembly line for 3 summers as a student back in the 1980’s.

    I still regret selling our ’89 Civic hatchback. With 216k miles everything still worked, very little body rot, and it still got 38 mpg. I saw it a few months ago zipping down Route 80 at 70 mph and looking good.

  9. Yep. My Dad used to be a true GM man. Drove a Pontiac then a long line of Olsmobiles. They screwed him one too many times, now there are two Honda’s (ones technically an Acura) in their garage.

    I don’t see too many of the ’85-87 Chevy Celebrity’s or Olds Cutlass Ciera’s I helped build on the road anymore. When I do see one, I feel a reflexive twinge of guilt towards the poor soul driving it.

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