Will Honda’s Earth Dreams engines make fuel efficiency more than a dream?

Acura Honda NSX Concept SideAt the Geneva Motor Show, Honda revealed details about its new, more fuel-efficient powertrains. These new engines, collectively known as Earth Dreams, will power most Honda vehicles in the near future, including the next NSX sports car. “We aim to be number one in fuel economy in each sector within three years,” said Honda’s European CEO, Manabu Nishimae. “Through Earth Dreams Technology, Honda will continue to minimize our environmental footprint.”

Like Ford’s EcoBoost and Mazda’s Skyactiv, Earth Dreams is a brand name for engines upgraded with new technology. Honda will add VTC (Variable Timing Control), direct injection, and will build conventional gasoline-powered cars with Atkinson-cycle engines, even though that setup is usually found in hybrids. Adding direct injection, which shoots a precise amount of fuel into the combustion chamber, is an important step if Honda wants to compete with Ford and Mazda, let alone Hyundai and Kia.

Honda will also improve its diesel range under the Earth Dreams banner, reducing its engines’ displacement and weight to cut emissions and improve fuel economy. Honda will also replace its mild-hybrid IMA (Integrated Motor Assist), with a new system that features lithium-ion batteries and plug-in capabilities. Because IMA only allows drivers to use electric power for brief periods, Honda’s hybrids have never been able to compete with the Toyota Prius on fuel economy. The new system should remedy that.

To put its engines’ green power to the road, Honda will rely more on Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT). Enthusiasts may not like the CVT’s eerily linear power delivery, but some kind of transmission upgrade was necessary. Honda offers a five-speed transmissions in the Accord, while most of the competition offers six.

The U.S. Will get its first Earth Dreams engine, a 2.4-liter inline-four, in the 2013 Accord. Europe will get a 1.6-liter diesel in the Civic. Honda says the diesel is the lightest of its kind and produces an extremely low 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer.

Earth Dreams technology will also be incorporated into the new Honda/Acura NSX’s V6. That engine, combined with the NSX’s three electric motors, will provide “supercar acceleration and outstanding efficiency,” Honda says. The NSX will go on sale in Europe by 2015, badged as a Honda. There was no update on the car’s U.S. launch.

“The NSX is the ultimate top-line sports model,” Nishimae said, “could we develop a smaller one?” He noted the EV-STER, an electric roadster concept making its European debut at Geneva, as an example of how green powertrain technology could be applied to a small, fun-to-drive package. Such a car would make a great replacement for the S2000.

With Earth Dreams, Honda is making a concerted effort to upgrade its basic engines and transmissions, something it will need to do to remain competitive. By starting from the bottom, Honda hopes to see improvements across its entire lineup, everything from sedans to sports cars.

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