Today’s tour of Federal Mogul in Plymouth Michigan exposed us to the specifications of automotive powertrains and the innovations that are currently helping to improve engine efficiency and overall fuel economy. Recently, President Obama announced stringent new emissions standards that will require automakers’ fleets to average 54.5 mpg by 2025. In order to meet this ambitious goal, automakers are looking in large part to improvements in the engine’s powertrain that will help increase fuel economy. As was explained by engineers from Federal Mogul, this entails the adoption of technologies that help to improve fuel economy by as little as one percent. While this small improvement may seem trivial, given the volume of cars produced each year it is quite significant.
Currently, Federal Mogul is working on a Corona ignition system that they hope will eventually make spark plugs obsolete and improve fuel economy by 5 percent in existing engines. The Corona ignition, which was patented nearly 30 years ago, has been reexamined by engineers at Federal Mogul given the inherent limitations of the ceramics from which spark plugs are made. While significant improvements have been made on the ceramic portion of spark plugs in recent years, there is little more that engineers can do. Existing spark plugs, although less efficient, are suitable for most passenger cars. Performance cars, however, are limited by existing spark plugs and can be greatly improved through the use of Corona ignition systems. While this is currently a niche market, Federal Mogul hopes that the technology will be ready to be installed in the first passenger cars by 2018 and will eventually replace spark plugs entirely. If automakers eventually choose to redesign their engines to incorporate Corona ignition systems engineers predict that they will see a 10 percent or greater increase in fuel economy as opposed to the 5 percent increase seen when Corona ignitions replace spark plugs in current engines.