Small is big as carmakers shrink engine, here’s how

These smaller engines produce more power than a bigger engine and yet consume lesser fuel. Gaurav Vangaal, associate director, IHS Markit, says ‘engine downsizing’ is a global phenomenon to meet stringent regulations such as the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) norms.

By:Updated: Nov 29, 2020 10:51 AM

 

From the new Hyundai Creta and i20 to Kia Sonet to even the new Mahindra Thar and Renault Duster, most cars launched in the country so far during the current calendar year have had one thing in common — a turbocharged petrol engine as one of the variants. These engines — mostly in the displacement band of 1,000 cc to 1,400 cc — are fitted with a device called the ‘turbocharger’, which sucks in hot exhaust gas from the engine to spin a turbine that compresses air, and that air is forced back into the engine cylinder, leading to more efficient combustion of the air-fuel mixture. The result is these smaller engines produce more power than a bigger engine and yet consume lesser fuel. Gaurav Vangaal, associate director, IHS Markit, says ‘engine downsizing’ is a global phenomenon to meet stringent regulations such as the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) norms.

“In India, while Bharat Stage emission norms focus on reducing harmful exhaust from the tailpipe, under CAFE norms carmakers have to improve fuel efficiency,” he says. “So, smaller engines that are powerful — so that customers don’t get disappointed — as well as more fuel efficient are needed.” Hyundai launched its first turbo-petrol car, the Venue, last year, and in 2020 followed it with five more models. It now offers the biggest range — two engine options (1.0-litre and 1.4-litre) in 26 variants in six models (Grand i10 NIOS, i20, Aura, Verna, Creta and Venue). In about a year and a half, Hyundai has sold 62,445 turbo-petrol cars.

Tarun Garg, director, sales and marketing, Hyundai Motor India, says Indian buyers are opening up to the idea that more ‘cc’ doesn’t necessarily mean more power. “We have taken it upon ourselves to reshape the automotive space in India, making ‘fun-to-drive’ cars for the masses, and democratised the turbo technology in 2020,” he says. Kia India offers 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engines across nine variants in two models — the Sonet and the Seltos. Tae-Jin Park, executive director and chief sales officer, Kia Motors India, says the company has seen great customer response to turbo-petrol cars, “with close to 15% sales contribution in the Seltos, and nearly 40% in the Sonet”. Kia has sold more than 31,000 turbo-petrol cars.

On December 2, Nissan will launch the Magnite with a turbo-petrol engine, and Renault will bring the Kiger turbo-petrol in a few months’ time. Both carmakers also introduced turbo-petrol engines in the Kicks and the Duster, respectively, a few months ago. Similarly, Tata Motors offers a turbo-petrol engine in the Nexon, and is expected to launch one in the Altroz soon. However, turbo-petrol is not a new phenomenon in India; German luxury carmakers have been offering it for over a decade. Volkswagen and Skoda also offer a range of TSI turbo-petrol engines.

In 2017, India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki launched the Baleno RS with the 1.0-litre Boosterjet turbo-petrol engine, but later discontinued the model. A Maruti Suzuki spokesperson said Indian buyers aren’t fully aware (the benefits) of this technology, and that’s why the acceptance was poor. “It was difficult to convince buyers why pay more money for a smaller engine,” the spokesperson said. But Vangaal argues that Maruti Suzuki, in due course of time, will have to re-launch turbo-petrol cars, at least in part, to meet the stringent fuel efficiency norms. While these engines are getting popular, these are still relatively expensive. For example, the turbo-petrol manual variant (S trim) of the Venue is priced Rs 8.52 lakh in Delhi, but the same trim with the naturally-aspirated bigger engine is priced Rs 7.46 lakh (ex-showroom); broadly, the price difference is about Rs 1 lakh.

Som Kapoor, partner, automotive sector, EY India, says there are multiple reasons for the same. “One, turbo-petrol engines still account for a minuscule share when it comes to overall sales, and hence the question of economies of scale comes into play. Two, downsizing an engine involves huge R&D cost and prototype testing, which gets built into the vehicle cost eventually. Three, a turbocharger is expensive (even a mass scale unit can be priced about Rs 15,000), over and above associated parts like Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), solenoid and valves. Four, turbo-petrol vehicles are free-revving — throttle response is instant — and so associated engine parts have to be made of a stronger material.”

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