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Can New Nissan Engine Make for Better Fuel Economy?

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Can we tune this for Fuel Economy?
Can we tune this for Fuel Economy?

A lot of racing technology trickles down to mainstream vehicles, including everything from tires to aerodynamics and even seatbelts and fuel economy tweaks.

A new Nissan engine, developed for the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race, could change everything we know about conventional vehicles and fuel economy. The Nissan ZEOD (Zero Emissions On Demand) is a hybrid electric vehicle, built for power and speed, but how does fuel economy fit into the picture? Really, what the Le Mans is about is pushing automobile technology to its limits.

For example, the last winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in June, 2013, was won by the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro. Powered by a 3.7ℓ diesel hybrid electric powertrain, the Audi ran 348 laps in 24 hours, for a total of 4,742.89 km (2,947 mi). If a hybrid electric vehicle powertrain can survive running straight 24 hours of the Le Mans race, then how much more so should it be able to handle the average driving that the non-racing driving public, who might drive that same distance in about three months!

This year 24 Hours of Le Mans will feature, in the experimental technology segment, a Nissan hybrid electric vehicle, powered by a tiny 1.5ℓ i3. Weighing in at just 40 kg (88 lb), this engine generates 400 hp!

Really, though, this new engine makes me wonder, “Can we make it even smaller?” that is, “Can we tune it for fuel economy of everyday vehicles?” Of course, weight is a big consideration in the fuel economy of conventional and electric vehicles, so what would happen if we made the Nissan ZEOD’s engine even smaller? Of course, I’m no engineer, but given that the Nissan ZEOD engine generates 400 hp and weighs just 40 kg, what would happen if we made an engine that generates just 150 hp? Would it weigh something like 20 kg? Might it need only to displace 0.7ℓ?

Some automakers are turning to turbocharged and supercharged engines to improve their fuel economy. They generate power, when needed, of much larger engines, but have the cruising fuel economy of much smaller engines. How soon might we see a version of the Nissan ZEOD engine in a conventional vehicle?

Image © Nissan

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