Tighter emissions leading to… bigger engines?

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Europe carmakers are currently in the midst of an emissions and fuel economy crisis. According to Reuters, it seems that tougher emissions tests are on the way in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel deception. Over a handful of recent years, automakers have been steadily decreasing the size of their respective engine offerings and it hasn’t had the desired effect. Ironically, it seems that a return to larger engines could help bring them in compliance with the tougher testing.

As it currently stands, emissions testing happens in a perfect bubble. The car is tested at a steady state on a simple rolling road. A small displacement engine aided by a turbocharger can meet the requirements asked of it in such a test. In the real world, however, that engine has to work much harder and winds up spewing far more toxins and drinking more fuel than it did during the testing phase of its life.

With current engine technology, automakers have reached the bottom end of where they can take displacement. Now it’s time to turn around and start working with larger mills once again. These will be needed to meet the upcoming new testing that employs much more realistic conditions. Automakers will need to meet these standards with all of their cars by 2019.

A larger engine won’t have to work as hard as a smaller engine in real world driving conditions. Less use of the throttle means less emissions coming out the tailpipe and more fuel staying in the tank. This is a bit of a surprise to us at MotorAuthority, and our colleagues at Green Car Reports will have a much better breakdown of all of this. We simply see “larger engines = better” and we retreat into a chest-beating, snarling power stance.

It’s not quite as simple as it seems, though. The smaller engines will become more efficient, and they’ll eventually start working in concert with electric powertrains. The torque of an electric motor makes perfect sense with regards to helping a small displacement internal combustion unit.

This isn’t the end of the tiny engine. It’s automakers scrambling to meet more realistic emissions testing. They’ll hit their marks, and then start working on ways to bring down engine size again. Battery packs are getting more powerful and smaller. Engines are likely to continue on the same path.

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