Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Sunday, 11 October 2009 15:14 UK

Turbo hails its green credentials

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

Saab 900 Turbo from 1989
Turbo has come a long way since the 1980s, industry executives say.

Turbochargers, best known for making cars go faster, are taking a lead in the race to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to motor industry officials.

Alex Ismail, chief executive, Honeywell Transportation
Turbochargers offer the fastest response to global warming at a lower cost per vehicle than any other technology
Alex Ismail, chief executive, Honeywell Transportation

"Turbo is no longer only for boy racers," insists Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen Group board member in charge of research and development.

Turbochargers push compressed air into the cylinders of an engine, thus allowing more fuel to be added to produce more power.

"It offers a new way of downsizing," Mr Hackenberg says, pointing to how turbo helps carmakers switch to smaller, less thirsty engines with lower emissions that nevertheless deliver "more power, more torque and more driving fun".

Ian Robertson, BMW Group board member in charge of sales and marketing, agrees.

"More often than not, we're increasing both the power and the acceleration capabilities, while at the same time we improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

"Turbo is playing a big part in it."

Faster, less emissions

Globally, just over one in four cars built is fitted with turbochargers, according to analysts Global Insight.

But by 2020, almost three in four cars built will be kitted out with turbo, it says.

Turbo trend

At the heart of this development there are conflicting demands from drivers, according to Alex Ismail, chief executive of Honeywell Transportation, one of the world's leading turbo manufacturers.

"People want smaller cars and smaller engines, but they are not prepared to give up power and performance," he reasons.

"The only way to meet these conflicting demands is to turbocharge smaller engines," Mr Ismail says.

"With turbo added, carmakers can get away with fitting cars with smaller engines without their performance being reduced."

Over the next decade, in large part thanks to the growth in turbochargers, the average size of engines in the US will fall from 3.6 litres to 2.9 litres, according to Global Insight.

In China and Europe, where the average engine size is currently 1.8 litres, it is predicted to fall to 1.6 litres and 1.4 litres respectively.

As such, "turbochargers offer the fastest response to global warming at a lower cost per vehicle than any other technology", according to Mr Ismail.

"It can probably help the motor industry improve emissions by 35-39% for the total cost of $1,600 (£1,000) per vehicle," he claims.

Better turbos

In the US, "where they've been running big engines, big V8 engines", only 5% of cars have turbos, says Mr Ismail.

BMW 1-series
You'd never know there was a turbo there
Ian Robertson, BMW Group

By 2020, 85% of cars in the US are expected to be turbocharged, Global Insight predicts.

In China, 60% of cars are expected to be fitted with turbo by 2020, up from 13% today, it forecasts.

Growth is set to be strong in Europe too, even though European manufacturers are already ahead of the pack.

Although few cars have turbo badges slapped onto them the way they used to during the 1980s, more than 50% of the vehicles built in Europe are fitted with turbochargers. This is predicted to rise to 85% over the next decade.

"Turbo has developed hugely since the 1980s," explains BMW's Mr Robertson.

"I can remember, back then, it was an interesting piece of kit, but clearly things like turbo lag [which is the delay between pressing the pedal and the turbo kicking in] were very visible," he says.

"But with twin-scroll turbos now, and triple-scroll turbo, you've effectively got minute turbos running inside a unit - there is an absolutely seamless performance.

"You'd never know there was a turbo there."

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