It’s funny how one comment from a Saab head honcho can be picked up by a news service and sweep the web.
Saab GB’s Jonathan Nash made some comments at an official Saab 9-3 launch last week in the UK and these have been doing the rounds as if they were new news. The comments pertain to ‘rightsizing’, which was Saab’s buzzword back at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.
Autoblog Green have written an article about this and strangely, it appears as if the writer isn’t aware of Saab’s BioPower model range:
Potential benefits of biofuels seem obvious with a reduced carbon footprint being a key reason. But, as we’ve covered in the past, alcohol fuels such as ethanol can also increase the performance of an engine if the engine is optimized properly. Saab realizes this fact and is considering implementing the idea for future powertrains.
My emphasis added.
ABG – the future is now.
Saab have offered their BioPower vehicles in Sweden for around two years and currently lead the European market in terms of E85 capable vehicles. The technology isn’t new, but I’d venture a guess and say it’s not yet perfected either.
Apart from favourable government policy in several countries, there’s some real reasons why Saab’s BioPower works. Here’s my limited understanding as to why that’s the case.
Opponents of E85 say that ethanol, as a fuel, doesn’t contain as much energy as regular gasoline. Scientists say this is true, so I believe them.
One of the things ethanol does have in its favour, however, is a higher octane content, which Saab have been able to exploit through turbocharging the car and using higher compression ratios to obtain higher output from the engine. So whilst they still take a mileage hit, they get better performance from the vehicle.
Getting higher performance per unit of displacement means that theoretically they can install a smaller engine, get better than expected performance and produce more respectable mileage figures through smaller displacement – rightsizing.
With their BioPower range, Saab has applied E85 technology to existing engines. I have a feeling that future engine designs will make a stopover in Sweden for some E85 optimisation – and this is where rightsizing fits in.
The concept of “rightsizing” was most recently featured when Saab showed the BioPower100 concept vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show earlier in 2007. Not only did this vehicle have the coolest tail lamps EVER, it also had an E100-capable engine that developed 150hp per litre of displacement.
This isn’t a production engine, but it was used by Saab to show the future potential of biofuel engine development. Saab consider that this blueprint for higher output engines can be used in the future to provide customers with potentially high hp-per-litre vehicles. So instead of shoehorning a 200hp two-litre engine into the future Saab 9-1, they may be able to install a 1.4 litre engine that gets the same output when required.
This smaller engine will probably be tuned in way that optimises it’s fuel economy when running on E85, and of course, it’d be available as a flex fuel model for the customer’s convenience.
And that tuning issue is probably the next main element in BioPower technology.
As mentioned, the current range of BioPower vehicles are adaptations of existing engines. Future engines will likely be designed with BioPower capability in mind, and engineered to suit. Engine tuning can be tweaked to optimise for a number of different circumstances and I’ve already featured a vehicle with software from Nordic that in tests so far has been seen to get better economy whilst running on E85 than Saab’s own numbers.
Future engines will also have further developments like HCCI or direct injection, that will further enhance fuel economy and output.
Saab pioneered rightsizing back in the 1970s when they introduced the turbocharger. Other companies caught up in years thereafter and now Saab has a chance to set a new pace.
I tend to think that future BioPower applications will focus on smaller engines and as Saab have hinted at in recent weeks, with hybrid drivetrains. This will work well with smaller, lighter vehicles and there’s definitely going to be a market in Europe for this type of vehicle in years to come.
Will they also develop it in bigger vehicles? I’ve heard whispers that Saab have had some trouble getting reliable performance from it’s V6 engine using E85. I know that’s the case in motorsport, so I assume it’s the case with regular cars as well.
Hopefully they’ll get that solved sometime as it’s an option I’m sure they’d like to be able to offer. Engine smoothness is an important factor in the bigger vehicle classes and whilst they could tune a BioPower engine to 300hp, the character of the engine may figure against them when compared to the competition.
In short, I think Saab’s investment in BioPower is a good thing. It’s not the solution, but it’s a part of the solution that’s available now. With cellulosic ethanol becoming more of a realistic option as time goes on, long-term BioPower viability becomes more of a possibility, too.
Saab’s current BioPower offerings are a good introduction to the technology, but from what they’re saying the future seems to be in using the technology to develop engines that are smaller but still just as capable of delivering power when required.