17 May 2010

The Vienna Motor Symposium was held for the 31st time on April 29-30, 2010 in the Hofburg Conference Center in Vienna, Austria. As it was the case in previous years, the main focus was on light-duty gasoline and diesel engine technology. Representatives of higher level management from several European car manufacturers discussed the challenges faced by the world’s automotive industry—driven largely by existing and future CO2 emission and fuel economy regulations—and their impacts on powertrain development. A number of technical papers were also presented dealing with such issues as new engine design, engine components, exhaust aftertreatment, and powertrain electrification. The conference, at its usual attendance level of about one thousand delegates, was apparently not affected by the global recession.

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Automotive Industry Trends. The automotive industry believes that passenger cars will continue to be powered by internal combustion engines, fueled by gasoline or diesel, within the foreseeable future. Within the next 20 years, alternative powertrains such as battery electric cars are predicted to play only a niche-market role. However, the internal combustion engine and the vehicle powertrain will undergo a significant evolution to meet the challenges brought by climate change and energy supply—factors that will become increasingly more important as the global economy emerges from the recession. The change in vehicle technology—involving downsizing, turbocharging, and hybridization/electrification—is anticipated to occur faster than during any other period in the history of the automotive industry.

As most policy makers and governments are turning away from fuel cells in favor of electric car as the vehicle designated to provide sustainable mobility for the future population of our planet, hydrogen and fuel cell cars were noticeably absent from most presentations. In papers that mentioned it, hydrogen either played a very marginal role or was dismissed as inappropriate for automotive powertrains due to the low energy density of H2 and of questionable environmental benefit due to the carbon emissions generated during H2 production [H. Wester, Fiat].

While practically all car makers have initiated electric vehicle programs, the development appears to be often driven by political rather than technical or commercial factors. The Volkswagen Group, one of the manufacturers least supportive of electric cars, pointed out that the future of the automobile depends on customer acceptance as much as it does on sustainability [R. Stadler, Audi]. Historically, products strongly oriented towards sustainability such as the VW 3l Lupo were generally not accepted by consumers. Volkswagen was critical about political targets that call for as much as 16% electric vehicle penetration by 2020. The company believes that electric vehicles are far away from marketability, due to costs, and predicts that the market share of electric vehicles can reach only up to 3% by 2020 [W. Steiger, VW]. Many car manufacturers are considering electric vehicles a niche market solution for urban areas [T. Melcher, BMW].

Technical sessions were also devoted to Otto engine development, racing and high performance engines, and powertrain electrification. In total, 44 papers were presented in two parallel sessions during the two day conference program. The Vienna Motor Symposium was organized by the Austrian Society of Automotive Engineers (ÖVK) and chaired by Professor H.P. Lenz. The next year conference is scheduled for 5-6 May, 2011.

Conference website