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Fuel-saving ideas are all around

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Fuel-saving ideas are all around



The first modern mass-market electric cars will cause a sensation when the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf go on sale later this year, but a quiet revolution in engines and transmissions promises to save vast amounts of oil in the decades before electric vehicles rule the road.

Even electric vehicles' ardent supporters concede EVs will only be a tiny slice of the total vehicle fleet for years to come, but Chrysler, Ford, GM and Volkswagen are poised to deploy fuel-saving systems in millions of vehicles. Some are already on the road. Many more will be within a year.

Here are a few of the technologies to watch for:

• Turbocharging

• Direct gasoline injection

• Diesel engines

• Automatic transmissions with eight speeds and more

• Dual-clutch transmissions

None of those gizmos provides the surreal EPA ratings Chevrolet and Nissan expect when the Volt and Leaf electric cars go on sale later this year -- 230 m.p.g. and 367 m.p.g., respectively.

The technologies are here today, though. Vehicles that offer them now or will by the end of this year include the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Fiesta and Taurus and VW Jetta. Others that will hit the road shortly include the Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS and ATS, Chevrolet Aveo and Spark, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Fiat 500 and Ford Edge, Explorer and F-150.

Before 2015, you can reasonably expect that every new car and truck will feature some of these technologies.

The result will be fuel economy no one dreamt of as little as a decade ago, including midsize sedans that achieve better than 40 m.p.g. and compacts to reach 50 m.p.g.

Even Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn -- electric vehicles' most outspoken and optimistic booster -- predicts EVs will account for no more than one in 10 new cars by 2020. By that time, smarter, more-efficient engines and transmissions will be common.

Here's a primer on where they'll show up first.

• Eight-speed transmissions. Already available on BMW and Jaguar luxury cars, they'll go mainstream next year when Audi starts installing them in nearly every vehicle it builds. In 2013, Chrysler is to begin building them in Indiana. Look for them in Ram trucks and the 300 and Charger sedans.

• Dual-clutch transmissions. Already available in the Fiesta, coming soon to Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep. A six-speed dual-clutch gearbox helps the subcompact Fiesta get 40 m.p.g. on the highway. They use computer controls to change the gears of a transmission that has most of the same parts as a manual gearbox. There's no clutch pedal, however. The driver can leave the selector in drive while the computer handles the shifting.

• Turbocharging and direct injection. Already available in the Ford Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS and a wide range of Audis and VWs, this combination boosts the power of small engines. That lets automakers use smaller and more fuel-efficient engines without sacrificing performance. A DI turbo engine will lift the roomy Chevy Cruze's EPA rating to 40 m.p.g. Ford already uses the system with V6s and will add it to four-cylinder engines to reduce fuel consumption in the new 2011 Explorer. Look for it to become common in all sizes of vehicles.

• Diesel. European automakers lead in this technology, which combines good acceleration with excellent fuel economy. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW will promote their diesels heavily. American and Asian companies have bet more heavily on electric vehicles and improving gasoline engines' fuel efficiency. If electric vehicles do account for 10% of the market by 2020, it's a safe bet that they'll outsell diesel cars here by a wide margin.

The future may belong to electric vehicles, but there's plenty of improvement yet to come from internal combustion engines.



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• Turbocharging - old tech getting new life with computer controls and things like VVT

• Direct gasoline injection - isn't this fairly old... at least 10 years? obviously diesels have had it for quick some time

• Diesel engines - pretty damn old

• Automatic transmissions with eight speeds and more - won't the gains over 6 speeds be pretty damn small?

• Dual-clutch transmissions - if =6 better than 8 speed autos for F.E.?

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