US market: XWD vs BioPower part 2

Yesterday, I took my own amateur stab at why you can’t get an XWD version of the 2.0T Saab 9-5 in the US market, focusing on Corporate Average Fuel Economy ratings.

Today, I have some more educated insights for you.

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I’ve been talking a little more about this with some people at Saab and whilst they agree that it would be a good offering to have, they have learned to live without it for several reasons (not a complete list, but just anecdotally).

First, the emissions problem. In a similar vein to what I wrote about yesterday, certain combinations of vehicle hardware just won’t fly in certain markets because of regulations in those markets and the expensive changes that would have to be made to some vehicles to get them into those markets. More detail on that below.

And second, from Saab’s point of view as a manufacturer and marketer, they have scarce resources to allocate for best use, and at the moment, the potential sales gains from other brands because of the V6 offering outweigh the potential sales lost to diehards who will only look at a 4-banger with XWD. They hope the 4-banger combination they’ve got in the US will satisfy – and it is a cracker of an engine that should be available there with a manual – but the equation of cost to meet emissions vs the limited potential rewards if they do so means that the business case for XWD in the 4-cylinder model for the US is quite small.

One of the commenters whose insight I’ve learned to rely on when it comes to technical matters is a guy named Johan. I don’t know exactly where he works, but he’s always got rock-solid views on this sort of matter.

He offered the following on my original post about this issue

There have generally been two reasons why some engine options aren’t offered in the United States; emission legislation and availbility of high quality fuels. I suspect the latter have improved in recent years though.

Today the car with its drivetrain must pass emission tests for its type approval. Want to sell the same engine option with both a manual and an automatic gearbox, well, then you need to do two type approvals. Add four wheel drive as option you’re up at four type approvals. Even if you know the engine will pass the test these tests aren’t exactly cheap. If you know the engine won’t pass, you first need to modify the engine/car (different catalytic converters, add on EGR system, different fuel tanks, different engine mapping and so on). During the years it haven’t been uncommon that some european engines have had to be modified in order to pass emissions in USA. For instance, ng9-3 cars that goes to US/Canada have a different fuel tank/fuel vapor system than the same cars sold in Europe (partly because of higher ethanol content in US fuels which raise vapor pressure).

BMW for instance have a long history of not selling several of its high performance M-models with the same engines as in Europe. Others have been “downtuned”, as the S54 in M3/Z3 M.

As for fuel quality, in the past BMW released one of its new V8 engines using Nikasil coated cylinders. Then when used with high sulfur fuels availible in the US the coating corroded and BMW ended up replacing many of the engines on warranty. High sulfur levels in the fuels have also been limiting the sales of many diesel engines in the US. First a few years ago the situation improved.

EU has also introduced fleet average fuel consumption standards (but in CO2/km rather than mpg) like the US, and for E85 cars sold in Sweden the manufacturer gets a credit. The added cost for making a car flex fuel capable is quite low so there are good reasons for doing that when you get a credit for it. But ethanol-gasoline blends are thougher on many materials so the fuel system and some engine parts have to be adapted for that. There isn’t a good reason why E85 fuels can be mixed with four wheel drive, it’s just that the fuel tank design usually differs between front and four wheel drive models and if the 4WD version can’t take ethanol you need to develope a new tank that can. Potentionally you could also lose some tank capacity with that.

In any case, in the end it comes down to what can be offered on the US/Canada market and what is economical to offer. To spend millions to develop and type approve versions that won’t be sold in any significant number is a waste of money. If you then have to pay fines because you can’t pass the corporate average fuel economy regulations that hardly improve things, but for Saab I don’t think it’s a big problem. It only cost $55/mpg above the limit, currently 27.5 mpg, and as Saab is a foreign manufacturer criminal liability shouldn’t be a possibility.

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