With alternatives to the petrol engine being announced ever so often you could be forgiven for thinking that the old favorite the petrol engine is on its last legs but nothing could be further from the truth and possibilities for developing the petrol engines are endless. One of the most crucial jobs on the agenda is to find ways of reducing fuel consumption, cutting emissions of the green house gas CO2 and also the toxic emissions which threaten air quality. One such fast emerging technology is cylinder deactivation where a number of cylinders are shut down when less is needed to save fuel.
The simple fact is that when you only need small amounts of power such as crawling around town what you really need is a smaller engine. To put it another way an engine performs most efficiently when its working harder so ask it to do the work of an engine half its size and efficiency suffers. Pumping or throttling losses are mostly to blame. Cylinder deactivation is one of the technologies that improve fuel economy, the objective of which is to reduce engine pumping losses under certain vehicle operating conditions.
When a petrol engine is working with the throttle wide open pumping losses are minimal. But at part throttle the engine wastes energy trying to breathe through a restricted airway and the bigger engine, the bigger the problem. Deactivating half the cylinders at part load is much like temporarily fitting a smaller engine.
During World War II, enterprising car owners disconnected a spark plug wire or two in hopes of stretching their precious gasoline ration. Unfortunately, it didn’t improve gas mileage. Nevertheless, Cadillac resurrected the concept out of desperation during the second energy crisis. The “modulated displacement 6.0L V-8- 6-4” introduced in 1981 disabled two, then four cylinders during part-throttle operation to improve the gas mileage of every model in Cadillac’s lineup. A digital dash display reported not only range, average mpg, and instantaneous mpg, but also how many cylinders were operating. Customers enjoyed the mileage boost but not the
side effects. Many of them ordered dealers to cure their Cadillacs of the shakes and stumbles even if that meant disconnecting the modulated-displacement system.
Like wide ties, short skirts and $2-per-gallon gas, snoozing cylinders are back. General Motors, the first to show renewed interest in the idea, calls it Displacement on Demand (DoD). DaimlerChrysler, the first manufacturer to hit the U.S. market with a modern cylinder shut-down system calls its approach Multi- Displacement System (MDS). And Honda, who beat everyone to the punch by equipping Japanese-market Inspire models with cylinder deactivation last year, calls the approach Variable Cylinder Management (VCM)
The motivation is the same as before — improved gas mileage. Disabling cylinders finally makes sense because of the strides achieved in electronic power train controls. According to GM, computing power has been increased 50-fold in the past two decades and the memory available for control algorithms is 100 times greater. This time around, manufacturers expect to disable unnecessary cylinders so seamlessly that the driver never knows what’s happening under the hood.