The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) 2007 World Congress will convene in Detroit this week with a theme of "Engineering for Global Sustainable Mobility -- It's Up to Us." One of their tech sessions is titled "High Performance and Fuel Economy: Can We Have Both?"
Increasing fuel economy while maintaining or even increasing performance is something everyone thinks about as gasoline prices climb. Whether the causes are political, geological or environmental, the end result of rising prices is a desire to get more performance with every precious drop of fuel. Never before have we had a better chance to do this with advanced technologies, lightweight composite materials, computer control of the combustion process and alternative fuels plus alternative drivetrain technologies such as electric motors.
As today's garage mechanics build hot rods, the technology is available to bolt together small blocks with 700 or 800 horsepower, astonishing numbers not very long ago and in reality, more than you can easily use. If you're racing, the power is good but if you're building for the street there's a point where it might make sense to trade some of that power for a bit more fuel economy. If every short night of cruising is a one hundred dollar fuel bill, eventually, something has to change.
Among the many competitions for street machines organized by enthusiast publications like Hot Rod, instead of just requiring proof of streetability and great numbers at the drag strip, why not add a fuel performance factor? Or how about having a performance economy competition? This doesn't mean everyone has to break out the turbo 4 cylinders, it could mean a competition of V8 engines only but where fuel numbers are considered as part of the equation. Pouring on cubic inches and fuel is one way to go fast but how about constraining the amount of fuel available which is a factor in the "real street" world we drive in every day.
How long before garage mechanics start adding electric motors to assist acceleration as a normal high performance upgrade? The high performance hybrid idea holds promise. Electric only vehicles are doing some amazing things, too, whether cars like the Tesla Roadster or motorcycles like KillaCycle, there is a lot of performance available if we start to think more along those lines.
While the V8 engine was once the holy grail of high performance and the emotional attachment we still have to that platform will last for a very long time, there's no reason we cannot think outside of that box as long as the performance is still there. Hot rodders are an amazing group and it will be interesting to see how everyone combines performance with better fuel economy. As long as performance does not suffer, it could be a fun challenge.