Published August 31, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
While GM is also touting the Volt, it's also promoting its ZL1 Camaro which promises 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, 184 mph at a relative bargain price of $54,995. Is this a last hurrah for a dying era or are we living in something better than the good old days?
Given just-announced federal fuel economy and emissions mandates, and calls for the same plus a certain minimum of electrified vehicles by influential California, get ready to say goodbye to the high-output V8 engine, says the CEO of Chrysler.
Actually, Sergio Marchionne predicted this result in the wake of fleet-wide belt tightening particularly from 2017-2025, the period covered by the updated federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. These, he said, will “change the way this industry operates,” and make now proliferating V8s in muscle cars “as rare as white flies.”
If this comes to pass, it’s not a little ironic that all manner of over-the-top expressions of the high-performance automaker’s art are now experiencing something like a renaissance.
If you have the money, today you can purchase from a wide variety of automotive speed machines up to a $2 million V16 made by the VW Group that pushes over 1,100 horsepower – the Bugatti Veyron. And even car buyers with relatively average incomes are invited to the party with such models as Chevrolet’s $55,000, 580-horseepower Camaro ZL1, and Ford’s similarly priced 662-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT500.
Consider that 420 horsepower was around all you'd get from previous-generation exotics like a Lamborghini Countach, and now your local Ford or Chevy dealer has a car that will run way from it in the quarter mile. This is a fact of the automotive landscape as we contemplate extreme austerity measures nearly doubling average fleet-wide fuel economy and halving CO2 emissions over the next 13 years.
At least that's the plan while automakers are hard at work offering around twice the number of 500-plus horsepower cars than hybrid models communicating quite the mixed message to the marketplace.
If the big V8 is going to be as rare as a white fly, is it also going out with a bang, like a party on the deck of the Titanic, or a last binge banquet before the start of a New Years' resolution diet? Or is Marchionne’s opinion just one more shaky finger held in the air trying to forecast which way the wind will blow?
One veteran industry analyst from 2953 Analytics, Jim Hill, told NBC News he thinks the latter may be the case, and observed that people have predicted the V8’s demise since 1979.
What ever proves true, the Obama administration has touted its CAFE mandates as overcoming legislative inertia to set the U.S. on course to cleaner and greener.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Obama.
Even if the V8 is kept in play, automakers will also be employing an “all-of-the-above” approach to either splice extremely clean vehicles into their automotive gene pool, such as pure EVs and plug-in hybrids or they’ll throw every trick in the book at conventional vehicles for incremental gains.
These include stop/start systems becoming more commonplace, a total systems approach to optimizing vehicles, super efficient transmissions, and various means of weight reduction. Of course we’ll see more downsizing of engines while boosting output through forced induction, direct injection, and other technologies such as those found in Ford’s EcoBoost line.
As mentioned, California is also pushing for more electrified vehicles, and over a dozen states follow its lead, so these mandates too are coming in the face of the most outspoken critics who have said average new car prices could balloon by as much as $10,000 per vehicle in 2025.
GOP presidential candidate Romney has generally sided with the critics of Obama’s legislation, and really there are so many technological and market variables pending in coming years, much lower cost estimates made by the government could prove equally true.
Everyone agrees cars will become more expensive. Up in the air is by how much? Critics have also said while cars will cost more and promise back-end fuel savings, consumers will still be the ones to foot the up-front bill.
The new rules call for “54.5” mpg as an average, but the government has varying ways it calculates this somewhat mythical figure. By 2025, one estimate is that a closer to EPA sticker number will be around 45 mpg for cars and 32 mpg for light trucks.
And at that point will there be fire-breathing V8s for sale like there are so many of today? The head of Chrysler says no, others says yes, and others still say maybe.