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EcoMotors has the ability to connect two engines side by side: COO Amit Soman

Tighter fuel economy standards are coming and what exists are fossil fuel burning options. So what are the options then to bridge these two things?

Virat Markandeya | October 6, 2014 | Updated 11:22 IST
Amit Soman, COO, EcoMotors Head.
Amit Soman, COO, EcoMotors Head.

On EcoMotors' Design
The impact of fuel economy in any engine comes from friction, metal-to-metal parts rubbing against each other. If you can reduce friction, you make the most dramatic impact on fuel economy. That's the first dot we start with in our engine. If we have less moving parts, then we will have less friction and better fuel economy. That is the premise of the whole design. If we have less parts then the weight of the engine is much less. As of now, the engine we are running for comparable power, to make sure it is apples-to-apples, is about 35 per cent lighter for the same power output. Along with weight, the size is less. Cost is less. All these are secondary benefits, those are not the goals we went in for but those are substantial amounts. They contribute to the overall economic equation. Connecting the last dot on this, with lesser components and this compactness, we have the ability to connect two engines side by side. You can almost call it power on demand if you will. This inherentness in the design cannot be achieved in a conventional engine. Conventional engine guys are doing it more from the perspective of cylinder deactivation, valve deactivation. But still, in that case, the piston motion continues. In our case, after physically declutching, you are essentially reducing half the friction.

On the need to reinvent the internal combustion engine
Tighter fuel economy standards are coming and what exists are fossil fuel burning options. So what are the options then to bridge these two things? Number one is some methodology of a substantially researched and developed to conventional engines. How do we bridge the gap in substantial improvements in conventionals? Path two is some sort of alternate energy. It could be natural gas, it could be hybrids or it could be electric vehicles (EVs). First let's talk about the conventional engines. Almost every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the world has legacy assets. You've got $300 to $400 million plants that have been invested for in the last 12 to 15 years. So the propensity to invest in something new is lesser, or making radical changes is lesser because of the legacy assets. Economic growth in any of those markets has been going through ups and downs. Europe shrunk and the other markets by somewhere between two to nine per cent, let's say. Legacy assets and slow and unpredictable economic growth will prevent conventional engine guys from making any dramatic radical changes- and incremental improvements are not enough. Let's look at the second one (alternate energy). It could be natural gas, ethanol, even hybrids to some extent, the uncertainty there is from the unpredictability of the resources cost as well as any kind of infrastructure. Let's talk about EVs. The unfortunate thing is that what gets talked about in EVs is safety. Because some kind of burning Tesla comes up in a video online. Unfair representation of Tesla, it was probably an incorrect use of the vehicle and it was one in God knows how many vehicles. But safety comes to the forefront, unfortunately. The second thing that rightly comes to the fore is cost, that from a payback perspective, it is still a 10 to 11-year payback. The third, which is also the obvious one is infrastructure density. My point of view is that these three: the safety, cost and infrastructure density are to a large extent the outcome of the commitment made by the EVs, industry or government. Meaning these three can be fixed in a matter of 10 years. I don't think it is out of the ordinary to expect that suddenly a country can have recharging stations. My perspective is point number 4: even if we have these things. I mean how long does it take for you at a gas station to fill up a car? Six minutes, eight minutes?

Are we going to have a 150 kWh battery that charges in six minutes. I personally have reservations against that. So this is the solution that any people have talked about. Just replace the batteries: we'll take your old one out, put a new one in. Maybe I'm relying too much on my manufacturing history. I don't see how you are going to pick up a 900-pound battery and replace it in six minutes and how you are going to keep an inventory of thousands. Will EVs get the density that people talk about? Yes, but we don't see that density up in the next 25 to 30 years. Today, the first adopters who would have bought EVs have already bought EVs. Which is why, Tesla had to do something unique to enter China, for example. So it's nothing against the technology itself, all of them, Tesla, BYD, they've all got the right product. The question is the adoption rate. That's where we come in. We are not burdened by legacy assets, or any other engine start-up like us. We are not restricted by economic growth in a particular market. So we have the ability to come up with a different business model, a different product.

On Peter Hofbauer, EcoMotors' Founder/CTO
Peter Hofbauer is the brains behind this entire series of inventions. The opposed piston opposed cylinder (OPOC), the engine itself, is several key patents and because of some of the properties of the engine, it allows several configurations which are also patents of Peter. Peter has been working on this for six years prior to EcoMotors' being officially founded. The engine that we call today as the turbocharged direct injection (TDI) engine, has basically Peter's name on it. Before joining, when I did some reading on Peter, I found an article that claims him to be the father of the diesel engine in pass car. There are some pretty impactful contributions to the engine world that are entitled to Peter. He has seen engines go from purely mechanical in every application, dirty old ambassador engines, the equivalent of that if you will, he has gone from mechanical old engines to making them electronic, higher pressure fuel systems and emissionising them. It's amazing to sit down with him or just listen to him in our design reviews: (he'll say) oh, this is the crankshaft problem we are having, this is what we did in 1989 on some project on the VW bug. He has got this unbelievable ability to draw connections.

On Future Plans
By the end of this year, we will have a passenger car-sized gasoline engine running as well. By the middle of next year (2015), we will also have a natural gas engine. Our gasoline attempt now is from a perspective of creating interest in the market. So that we find a partner we can go to production with. We are not going to finish development and bring it to market ourselves. We are going to create enough in terms of performance that it feels sexy for someone to invest in it. Then some OEM will say let's do this together and bring it to market. As of right now, it looks like (production from the China plant) will be back end of next year.

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