As emissions and fuel economy regulations become more stringent, alternative energy sources will obviously be an area where automakers will continue to throw research dollars. But unless and until electric vehicles, fuel cells, and hydrogen cars become the norm, automakers will continue looking to improve current technologies in order to provide more power in increasingly frugal ways.
One of those technologies is turbocharging. While these forced induction systems have been available on production cars since the 1960’s (with Chevy Corvair Monza/Oldsmobile Jetfire being the first), they have never perfectly overcome the famed “turbo lag.” Twin-scroll turbocharging and multi-turbo systems have helped dramatically reduce delays, but now that standard consumer vehicles are using forced induction systems to save weight and improve fuel efficiency, the average driver doesn’t want to put up with any delay.
That’s why electric turbocharging systems are gaining popularity among automaker engineering departments. These systems use electric motors to power a compressor that pushes air into a turbocharger, instead of relying on exhaust gases. The results are turbochargers that can spool up in 250 milliseconds, and that can reduce fuel consumption by ten percent.
The first applications of this technology have been through concepts like Audi’s Clubsport TT Turbo Concept, which makes over 600 horsepower from a pair of turbochargers applied to its 2.5-liter five cylinder engine — one standard turbo, one electric.
Now it looks like Mercedes-Benz and its performance division, AMG, want in on the action. AMG has publicly acknowledged that electric turbochargers would keep costs down while adding performance, compared to full electric drivetrains, which still are expensive to incorporate.
Mercedes-Benz already uses electric turbochargers in motorsports, where any turbo lag is unacceptable. As for its production cars, even its most advanced turbocharged vehicles, like the CLA45 AMG, still experience some lag that could be improved.
The next generation A-class, due in 2017, could be the first Mercedes-Benz model to use electric turbocharging, but even that would follow its rival Audi and its electric turbocharged A8 coming next year.