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Punching Above Its Weight


Will innovative engine deliver on its promise of lower cost, lighter weight and increased fuel efficiency?James D. Sawyer


By James D. Sawyer
Senior Editor




Is it better for an automaker to save weight by making components of new materials or by optimizing the design of components made of traditional materials? Dave Mason, Altair Engineering’s VP of Global Automotive, believes the latter is the case as you can see here.

Amit Soman, president and COO of EcoMotors, pretty much agrees with him. And so do two major Chinese companies.

“New lightweight materials can be extremely expensive,” said Soman. “It is more economical to save weight by reducing the weight of something you are already paying for, in this case the engine,” while making it out of traditional cost-effective materials.

EcoMotors (Allen Park, MI) is working to commercialize an opposed-piston/opposed-cylinder (OPOC) engine design which promises to deliver impressive power density compared to traditional compression and combustion engines of similar output. The OPOC engine architecture is capable of being manufactured as either a combustion engine or a compression (diesel) engine, Soman said.

But wait, as they say on the late-night TV ads, there’s more.

“Our engine and powertrain packages are designed to be 15-45% more efficient, smaller, lighter, and less expensive to manufacture than conventional internal combustion engines,” said Soman. Being more efficient, he added, also means it pollutes less. In addition, lightening the engine could also lead to a reduction in size of other vehicle components, such as brakes. This in turn can be of further benefit in lowering fuel consumption. Furthermore, the smaller size of the OPOC engine should give designers more latitude in optimizing the aerodynamics of a vehicle.

Those vehicles, at least at first, likely are to be built in China. EcoMotors has granted Zhongding Power a license to build diesel versions of the engine. Zhongding is constructing a plant in Anhui Province to produce the engine at an anticipated rate of 150,000 per year.  The first unit is expected to be built in the spring of 2015. Zhongding is also nearing completion of a compacted graphite iron (CGI) foundry to provide blocks for the engine. The facility, Soman said, should be in operation in the last quarter of 2014 and will provide CGI to outside customers as well as to Zhongding’s engine plant.

The other Chinese concern with which EcoMotors has a relationship is with a subsidiary of FAW, a major Chinese automaker. This joint venture also looks to produce diesel versions of the OPOC engine, this time to the tune of 100,000 units per year.

In addition, EcoMotors has established a joint research and development center with China’s Hunan University to further develop and adapt their technology for the Chinese market.

As if this wasn’t enough for EcoMotors to have on its plate, the company has been busy on this side of the Pacific, too. In 2011 it signed an agreement with Navistar to work on the development of the engine.  Then in March 2014 EcoMotors announced it had purchased Katech Inc., a Michigan-based manufacturing company known for developing advanced engines and powertrains for Detroit automakers.

Published Date : 4/1/2014

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