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Turbochargers making comeback: What once considered signature of gas-guzzling sports car turns eco-friendly

The Yomiuri Shimbun –


TOKYO — Turbochargers and superchargers were once considered to be a signature of gas-guzzling sports cars, but they are poised to make a comeback in a range of eco-friendly cars that will hit roads around the world—and Japanese automakers are scrambling to get onboard.

The revival of chargers, which had widely fallen out of favor as more nations introduced stricter exhaust emission rules, has been sparked by new “downsizing” technology that improves fuel economy by reducing engine size but using chargers that prevent any dropoff in power.

In Japan, Nissan Motor Co. will start selling in September a new model of its Note equipped with a supercharger.

The new Note will have a 1.2-liter engine, which is smaller than the present model’s 1.5-liter engine, but will have a supercharger to provide extra power. The new model will be about 40 percent more fuel efficient than older versions.

Toyota Motor Corp., whose main eco-friendly vehicles are hybrids, has decided to produce a new turbo engine car for emerging economies.

Turbochargers improve horsepower by sending large amounts of air into the engine via a small turbine powered by the flow of exhaust gas.

They were a staple on many sports cars, but the zip they added had the downside of consuming a lot of gas. The production of turbochargers seemed to be doomed when tighter emission regulations were introduced in 2000, and demand sharply dropped.

However in 2006, German automaker Volkswagen AG introduced a turbo and a smaller engine in its small “Golf” model — a process it termed “downsizing.” Although a small engine offers better fuel efficiency, it produces less power. But VW fitted these turbochargers to give its cars more speed off the mark. This new technology improves fuel consumption without requiring high costs and specialized manufacturing like hybrid vehicles do, and its use soon spread to automakers around the world.

Expectations that demand for turbo cars will rebound have prompted Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and IHI Corp., leading companies in the global turbocharger market, to draw up plans to quickly boost output.

According to IHI, the world turbo market is expected to grow from 22 million units in 2011 to 35 million units in 2015. Demand is expected to shoot up in China and North America — where regulations on fuel efficiency are being tightened — by 2.2-fold and 3.1-fold, respectively.

The two companies plan to ramp up production in those areas and churn out a combined 16 million units by 2016 — double their current production level and possibly the highest in the world.

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