What happens when car people and the rest of the world crash into one another
Hello? Anyone out there? We're waiting...and to be quite frank we're getting a bit fed up with all the waiting, and watching ugly testers fly by our screens. First there's a white one, then there's a black one, ugh. Yet still -- no production vehicle, no big party, no car, no joy.
And now they've delayed it. Jeez, man...come on! According to Ward's Dealer Business, the Camaro will roll in March 2009 as a 2010 model, meaning that normal people should get a shot at one around September of 2009 – if they’re willing to pay that $15,000 dealer “service” charge. It also means a Detroit Auto Show debut, which is predictable, corny and plain wrong. Here's what I think GM should do:
1. Get SEMA, the aftermarket masters, involved and coordinate a massive Camaro parade at the annual Vegas SEMA trade show. Mustangs and Challengers get parked at the back of the Wheel Hall.
2. During the show, pay Jay Leno to debut the car on the Tonight Show, in Vegas. Maybe even pull an Oprah stunt and give away a few V-8 models. Shoot, he’s such a notorious gearhead that he may do it for free.
3. Shortly afterward at the LA Auto Show, have Leno debut three new Camaros: A corn-burning hot rod concept that will never be built, the all-new Camaro Two-Mode Hybrid and the new fuel-efficient four-banger base model. With cylinder deactivation technology, dontcha know.
Now, let’s talk about that Firebird. Come on GM, paint a screaming chicken on the hood of a dark gold metallic 2010 Camaro...
Do you want better fuel economy, or more power? It’s a conundrum car buyers have been faced with since the very beginning. During the 1970s, the decision was made for us as performance was subjugated by new, strict emissions laws. Power came back in the 80s and 90s, but today, as fuel prices rise and tighter fuel economy standards loom on the horizon, manufacturers know that going back to those dark days isn’t an option for today’s customers. No, we want our cake, and what good is having cake if you don’t eat it?
So thank heavens for direct injection. You may have heard of this technology if you read our Geneva Auto Show coverage or our . The promise – mostly delivered – is better fuel economy and an increase in power. But how can you have both?
By wasting less fuel. In a conventional fuel injection system, the fuel and air are mixed in a chamber outside the cylinder called the intake manifold. From there, it enters the engine, gets ignited by a spark plug and burns. Since the fuel has to travel a distance – even a short one – to where it will actually burn, some of it is wasted either by staying in the intake manifold or by not burning completely inside the engine.
Direct injection works by bypassing the intake manifold and squirting the fuel directly into the combustion chamber. This produces a number of benefits, starting with moving the fuel closer to the spark plug. This puts it right where you want it, and since it burns more completely, you get more power and less wasted fuel. In addition, you can spray the fuel exactly when you need it, rather than trying to guess how long it will take to get from the intake manifold to the combustion chamber. This also means more fuel is burned, less is wasted, and subsequently you get more power.
Next is the tendency for fuel to “pool” in the intake manifold. Imagine you’re spraying a pump bottle of window cleaner on a piece of glass, except you’ve put a cardboard tube – say, from a paper towel roll – over the nozzle. Spray your glass cleaner, and most of it makes it to the glass, but the inside of the roll gets sprayed too, and consequently you need more squirts of cleaner to get your window clean. That’s what happens in a standard fuel-injected engine when the fuel is sprayed into the intake manifold, and engineers compensate by spraying more fuel than they really need. In direct injection, you’re taking away that paper towel roll, and everything goes exactly where you want it with no waste.
Finally, there’s engine load, which is how hard an engine is working at a given time. In a conventional fuel injected engine, the fuel is metered into the combustion chamber at a roughly 14.7 to 1 ratio of air to fuel (14.7 parts of air to one part of fuel). However, at a light load – say, idling or gently cruising – the engine doesn’t really need that much fuel. Direct injection allows the engine to run “lean” under these circumstances, which is to say it lets less fuel into the combustion chamber. It also allows the engine management computer to optimize how much fuel is burned as loads increase. By varying the amount of fuel delivered to the engine based on precise need, direct injection improves fuel economy.
So why not use it on everything? Well, there are drawbacks. First, it’s expensive. The components in a direct injection engine need to be much more robust than a standard fuel-injection system. The system works at very high pressures, so the fuel lines must be stronger, the connections more stout, and the injectors themselves must be much more rugged since they’re exposed to the hostile environment of the combustion chamber. Second, it’s complex, for all the reasons listed above, plus the computer programming needed to do all the fuel delivery’s fancy footwork.
However, the benefits are easy to see, and as the technology is used more and more, costs will come down and you’ll see it in more mainstream vehicles. For example, GM currently offers its direct injection V-6 in a few Cadillac models. Later this year though, Chevrolet’s Traverse, new crossover utility vehicle, will bring direct injection to the masses.
Keith Buglewicz Photo: General Motors