On CNG, Hybrids & Real-World Efficiencies

The CEO of automotive supplier KSPG thinks that CNG is a great alternative, that hybrids can be overrated, and there are still gains for internal combustion engines.Dr.

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The CEO of automotive supplier KSPG thinks that CNG is a great alternative, that hybrids can be overrated, and there are still gains for internal combustion engines.

Dr. Gerd Kleinert, CEO of automotive supplier KSPG (kspg.com), thinks that the future of powertrains for the next several years—particularly in North America, where the fuel in question is available with remarkable abundance—should be the use of compressed natural gas (CNG). “The modifications that need to be made to the engines are really close to zero,” he says, adding, “You have CNG in the U.S. like no one else in the world.”

While there is some concern vis-à-vis the availability of CNG, he cites the Opel Zafira Tourer 1.6 CNG Turbo ecoFLEX (he just referenced the car as “a Zafira”; chances are no one outside of Opel could remember its bona fide name) that has a 530-km range (a.k.a., 329 miles) on CNG and, because there could be a potential problem finding a CNG station, the Zafira Tourer has a 14-liter gasoline tank that is good for an additional 150-km range (93 miles).

As KSPG is a supplier of a variety of components including pistons, pumps, valves, EGR systems, bearings, and the like, one might imagine that so far as Kleinert is concerned, any vehicle with an internal combustion engine—gasoline or diesel—is something he can get behind. But in his estimation, while acknowledging the forthcoming regulations in Europe (CO2 oriented), the U.S. (miles per gallon focused), and China (mpgs recalculated to CO2 emissions), he thinks that while hybrids are “a solution,” he admits, “If it has a long-term survival chance, I don’t know.”

He suggests that one of the reasons that European OEMs are rolling out with an increasing number of hybrid vehicles is because on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), the hybrid shows real fuel efficiency savings. “However, when it comes to something having to do with the real world. . .” he says, then goes on to tell an anecdote about the experience of the cars in the KSPG fleet. The company is headquartered in Neckarsulm, Germany, about 90 miles south east of Frankfurt. Kleinert says that one of the cars that KSPG personnel drive throughout Germany to visit customers, a Lexus LS Hybrid, was getting no better mileage than 14.5 liters/100 km (16 mpg). “Every long version of the S Class, A8, and 7 Series we have with a three-liter diesel engine, always gets between 9 and 10 liters per 100 km [26 and 23 mpg],” he says, noting that the drive routes were approximately the same. “A diesel is better in fuel consumption in normal life,” he says.

That said, KSPG is working, with FEV (fev.com) on a hybrid system, a range-extender type. It is based on a Fiat 500. What they’ve done is put a V2 (yes, that’s as in “two cylinder”) engine in the space where the spare wheel is normally located, and also packed in two generators along with the 0.8-liter, 40 hp engine. There is a small lithium-ion battery. The front wheels are driven by an electric motor. When the car is below 50 km/hour, the European city speed, and the battery is sufficiently charged by the generator, it can run fully as an electric vehicle. Above that speed, the generator directly powers the motor.

As Kleinert surveys tech like electric water pumps, variable oil pumps, and fully variable valve actuation systems, he says, “There is still huge potential for improving engines.” There may be a lot of attention on things like electric vehicles, but he still sees gas and diesel as playing significant roles for global OEMs.—GSV