Image: Wikipedia, CC
Americans have been known for a long time for their love of big cars and big engines, but this is slowly changing. Big V6 and V8 are slowly losing ground to smaller and more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engines, a trend that still has momentum despite a drop in fuel prices in 2009. According to Ward's Auto, in 2009 "the installation rate for V-6 and V-8 engines fell to 57.1%, from 63.9% in '08, continuing a 5-year decline from a peak this decade of 76.2% in '04."
A 42.2% drop in production of light-trucks, where V-6s and V-8s still accounted for 84% of '09 output compared with 88.2% in '08, was a big factor in declining applications of the engines.
Economic problems and the cash for clunkers program no doubt also encourage Americans to downsize. But I'd like to think that growing environmental awareness and the steady incremental improvement of small-displacement engines also plays a role.
There's no doubt that most vehicles are still overpowered and that horsepower inflation has eaten up a lot of efficiency gains, but that could change with the new CAFE standards and future climate legislation (a carbon tax would probably work best, but it might not be politically possible in the US).
Via Ward's Auto, Autoblog Green
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