We know it is a sign of the times when new models are rolled out with a bulk of the product information package packed with information about the new body, styling, interiors, trims, potential market and the like. The space that used to be devoted to extolling the virtues of a bigger, more responsive engine seems to have dwindled away. After all, you can’t blame manufacturers for feeling apprehensive about how the public will take the news, let alone how regulatory authorities are likely to do so.
But that is the way the wind blows. It isn’t just that the price of petroleum is rising. No, we haven’t quite felt the sting in Oman or the GCC in general due to government generosity. But elsewhere, disparate events like financial crises, currency fluctuations and the odd war or two are doing their bit to make fuel costlier and people are voting with their purchases of smaller engined, more fuel-efficient cars. What is increasingly happening is that the new markets in terms of volumes for most global manufacturers are in countries like China, India and Brazil where fuel costs and the subsidies on them are under pressure. People do feel the pinch, with retail cost of fuel almost the same as a customer in highly taxed Europe pays for it.
You also know that the trend is well and truly set when flagship models start sporting engines that are smaller in volume than variants they have left by the roadside a decade ago. Take the two flagships we have tested this month – the XJ and the S-class. Both have 6-cylinder engines under their bonnets, but don’t aren’t limited in what they offer in terms of comfort and performance. Jaguar sees the 3.0-litre as critical to establishing volumes in the segment even here in the GCC and we know that Mercedes are working at even smaller alternatives that are likely to come in the future.
In the meantime Audi have also signalled the production of their A8 hybrid and while that is a whole new ballgame, the 2.0-litre TFSI engine at the heart of the petrol-electric hybrid is a popular inclusion already in their smaller cars. This is an alternative that may just catch on with other manufacturers, leading to more 4-cylinder engines in large flagships. By means of using the hybrid path, Audi is already looking at a sub – 6 litre per 100 kms fuel consumption while retaining the 0 to 100 sprint in below 8 seconds. This is where the market is – not looking at whether people will buy for saving money at the pump, but making sure they don’t lose performance in the bargain.
Now the biggest proviso is ensuring that volume manufacture lowers the cost of all the new technology, ensuring that the upmarket customer, whether he be in Muscat or Mumbai, will buy the car for the whole package. We think that entails beefing up the engine information in future media packs, for there is a whole new story waiting to be told.