A Look at Green Performance and Accessories
Bigger is better. It’s a common expression touted by both casual participants and hardcore aficionados when it comes to performance products and accessories: more torque, more horsepower, anything to give the engine that extra juice to make it go faster and drive smoother. Many people don’t just see these vehicles as heavily souped-up machines, but rather as a way of life.
But go beyond this group of devotees and you’ll find that this niche market has had a less than stellar reputation in the past. Noisy, gas-guzzling, unnecessarily loud–these have been some of the words used to describe the performance side of the aftermarket. While advances in hybrid technology and vehicle design have led to greater fuel efficiency and less pollution, a great deal more can be done with regards to performance products. As a nod to the increasing environmental awareness of the driving enthusiast, last November the Specialty Equipment Market Association presented a “Making Green Cool Zone” exhibit that showcased performance products from manufacturers and companies that had an environmental edge to them.
Even so, many at SEMA were initially skeptical that they’d have enough participants to hold such a viewing at all.
“This is the first time we had the ‘Making Green Cool Zone’ at the show. A lot of our members–and we have 7,500 of them–are involved as manufacturers and retailers of performance parts and green is becoming a very critical part of their future,” says John Waraniak, vice-president of vehicle technology and OEM relations at SEMA. “Whether it be biodiesel, electric, gasoline, hybrids, you name it, they’re involved in all of them. Just because something is deemed ‘performance,’ it doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice in how it affects the environment.”
While trade shows are normally meant to highlight new products, a secondary driving force behind this particular showcase was to adjust a lot of people’s perception of what is out there on the market today in terms of green performance products.
However, SEMA was wary of showcasing products that only claimed to be “green” without numbers to back up these claims. So it went the extra mile and offered dozens of companies the opportunity to participate in the “Fuel Mileage Challenge,” where products exhibited at the “Making Green Cool Zone” were tested in equal conditions at the AAA test lab in Diamond Bar, Calif., where SEMA is headquartered.
Four products in particular stood out above the rest, mainly for their fuel economy and lower emissions. They were SLP Performance’s cat-back exhaust and cold-air intake; Edge Products’ line of Evolution programmers; Gibson Exhaust Performance’s single-swept side three-inch cat-back exhaust; and STS Turbo’s turbo system and turbocharger kit.
SLP Performance was at one time a Tier-1 supplier for General Motors, producing over 50,000 vehicles exclusively for GM and bringing us such car classics as the Camaro SS, the Pontiac WS6, and the Pontiac Firehawk. SLP draws upon more than 20 years in the aftermarket from its extensive R&D department as well as its previous experience on the OE side of the business.
“We’re not just manufacturing cold-air induction systems, or just exhaust systems. We manufacture a complete package: a cold-air induction system, an exhaust system, a hand-held reprogrammer, a harmonic balancer, and a set of rocker arms. All of these components were designed to work well together, which makes up our total package,” says Kevin Woodruss, marketing manager for SLP Performance Parts, Inc.
When installed in a 2008 5.3L V8 Chevrolet Silverado and tested by SEMA, for instance, the Stage Two SLP PerformancePac (which includes a Blackwing cold-air induction system, a PowerFlo cat-back exhaust system, a 350/400 HP tailgate badge, and hand-held power programmer) increased fuel economy by 4.9%, without increasing emissions.
The programmer is a key component to the approach. “You’re taking the stock tune out and putting in ours before uploading it into the vehicle. This optimizes a number of things: air, fuel, [and] spark, and it makes all of the components communicate better with one another. You’re taking away the restrictions from the cold-air intake and the exhaust system, and allowing it to breathe a little more air into the engine and less air when you’re exhausting it out. So all these things, including the programmer, are all working hand in hand with each other, and that’s where you’re going to gain a little more on everything.”
The use of reprogramming technology, an approach that has commonly been seen to build horsepower at the expense of the environment, has proven a pivotal revelation for Edge Products, too.
For four years now, its line of Evolution programmers for trucks and SUVs has been selling well.
“One thing we discovered was that it was helping gain full economy on the vehicle,” says Jared Venz, marketing manager for Edge Products. “Using less fuel to get further distances is where we got the greener approach on that. Similarly, [vehicles using the Evolution programmers] stayed within the range of allowable CO2 emissions during the test SEMA performed, which is also a plus.”
The standalone flash programmer monitors current engine parameters while sitting on a SUV’s or truck’s dash. It then retunes the powertrain control module (PCM) and changes the signal, the timing of the engine, and the fuel delivery, leading to increased fuel economy and more efficient vehicle operation overall.
While traditional reprogrammers are typically hand-held devices used outside while a vehicle is stationary, the Evolution unit operates in real time while the truck/SUV is in motion, giving results against real world conditions.
An engine is, of course, an elaborate air pump. Providing a more efficient way to get air into and out of an engine has long been known to offer benefits in performance.
For 14 years, Gibson Performance Exhaust has been a significant player in this aspect of the performance market. At last year’s show the company exhibited a single-swept side three-inch cat-back exhaust system on a Ford F-150 that showed a 2.6% improvement in fuel mileage. While this particular cat-back system showed an increase in fuel economy overall, this is not uncommon of the exhaust systems across Gibson Performance’s product line.
“What really sets us apart is we don’t design our systems for wide open performance. Our systems are not designed to flow as much as possible but to flow as efficiently as possible,” says Shawn Gibson, vice-president of Gibson Performance. “We find the optimum amount of flow to increase fuel economy while maintaining a good power curve down at a lower RPM range. All of our systems are built the same way and all of our systems could be considered ‘green.’ “We’re able to increase the performance of a vehicle, and increase the fuel economy of the vehicle, without affecting the emissions whatsoever,” continues Gibson. “So you can add this to your vehicle and not affect emissions.”
For six years now STS Turbo, Inc. has been offering a complete line of bolt-on turbocharger systems for GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Nissan vehicles. At last year’s SEMA event the company released new turbocharger systems for 2008+ Chevrolet C6 Corvettes, Cadillac CTS-V and 2005+ Chrysler Hemi Cars.
“Turbochargers have always been known for their efficiency and ability to increase fuel economy, while giving huge gains in horsepower and torque,” says Rick Squires, vice-president of research and development for STS Turbo, Inc. “However, turbochargers have also been traditionally very tough on emissions, because so much of the heat from the exhaust is dissipated into the engine bay out of the turbine housing rather than staying in the exhaust to heat the catalyst.”
When tested, not only was STS’s turbo system the winner in the F-150 products category, it was also the overall winner among the “Making Green Cool Zone” products
tested. It showed an improvement of 4.6% in fuel mileage during the US06 “Aggressive Driving Test,” as well as lowering hydrocarbon emissions by 75%, while also improving the 0-100 kph acceleration rate by some three seconds.
“STS revolutionized the turbocharger industry over six years ago when they received patents for Remote-Mounting turbochargers,” continues Squires. “This concept was not accepted by the mainstream for several years, but has become increasingly popular because of its combination of providing some of the highest horsepower per pound of boost numbers in the industry, with typical fuel mileage increases of 10- 20% and dramatic reductions of about 75% in harmful emissions during normal driving. The remote mounting also enables the system to be installed in much less time than conventional systems and leaves the vehicle’s stock components and emission systems intact.”
Can we expect to see more performance products following this green trend in the future? It’s difficult to say. While consumer awareness is increasing, and by virtue of the fact that these products are already on the market, it’s likely companies will continuously strive to make their products more efficient. As a result, even those performance enthusiasts who only focus on performance will still get the benefits of this “greening,” as will the rest of us.
The Prius GT
For years, the Toyota Prius has been held up as the standard for environmentally conscious vehicles. The last thing you’d expect it to be used for is something like racing. Well, you’d be wrong. The Prius GT concept car created by Toyota is meant to be a comparable match for hot rods that typically race the circuit.
With an Echo 1.5 litre four-banger engine, the Prius GT gains 22 horsepower and Toyota also boosted the electric motor’s performance by bumping the high-voltage power components from 500 to 550 volts. Other changes for this concept include a retuned suspension with sportier shocks, springs, and stabilizer bars, along with a gutted interior to pare down its weight.
With the additional power, and 400 fewer pounds to haul around, the Prius GT scoots to 100 km/h in about 8.5 seconds.
According to Toyota’s website, the current 2010 model Prius includes a 1.8 litre gasoline engine (previously 1.5 litres) that generates 98 hp, and with the added power of the electric motor, total horsepower is boosted to134 hp (previously 110). The larger engine’s displacement allows for increased torque, reducing engine speed (RPM), which helps improve fuel economy at highway speeds. With an electric water pump, the 1.8 litre Prius engine is the first Toyota engine that requires no belts, which further improves fuel economy.
Can we expect production of this vehicle by Toyota? Unlikely, but don’t dismiss the idea of a performance Prius so quickly. With technology always improving upon itself, Toyota may surprise us yet in the near future.
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