Featured image provided by Buick.

Buick’s Latest Crossover Reveals The Slow Future Of Internal Combustion Engines

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A recent article at The Autopian shows us that the cheapest internal combustion engine cars are starting to fall behind in performance, and this doesn’t bode well for the future of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Buick’s Slooooowwwww Crossover

Matt at The Autopian points out that the 2024 Buick Envista with its 1.2-liter turbo motor is priced below $24,000 (pre-delivery, tax, etc.) and showcases an impressive and sleek exterior. With its front-wheel-drive capabilities and compliance with emerging regulations, it could sadly also inaugurate the dusk of high-performance gas-powered vehicles.

While official performance figures haven’t been released, it’s pretty clear that the vehicle will be slower than the Buick Encore, which already clocks in pretty slow (by 2023 standards) at 9.3 seconds. With a smaller engine and power only going to the front wheels, the Envista will likely get to 60 MPH in over ten seconds.

Historically speaking, this isn’t exactly terrible. The “unsafe” Chevy Corvair that Ralph Nader earned a wet blanket reputation for killing was no hot rod, with a 0-60 time of over 20 seconds. But, even the fast cars of the 1960s are pretty far behind today’s economy cars.

For example, the 1961 Chevrolet Impala SS 409 V8 Coupe had a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds, which is the same time a Chevy Bolt EUV gets. One was a high performer in its day, and the other is a budget economy car with an electric drivetrain, and not some performance EV. I love mine, but I’m under no delusions that it’s a Tesla Plaid or a Lucid Sapphire.

So, it’s pretty clear that the Envista’s 10+ second 0-60 time is slipping behind those of comparable budget EVs.

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Why This Is Happening

The obvious answer is that tightening emissions regulations are becoming less and less compatible with reasonable power levels for ICE powerplants.

Automotive engines have been an evolving technology since their inception over a century ago. With each passing year, engineers have designed new engine features to enhance performance, fuel efficiency, and reduce emissions. As a result, automotive engines have tremendously increased in complexity over time.

In the late 1800s, engines were simple two-stroke powerhouses that featured a basic carburetor and spark plug. But as cars grew in popularity, engines experienced technological advancements. Engineers started adding multiple cylinders, valvetrains, and fuel-injection systems to refine the engine’s performance, and then later to do this while meeting emissions requirements at the same time.

In the mid to late twentieth century, emissions regulations required engines to employ more complex features to reduce pollutants. Innovations such as catalytic converters, electronic engine management systems, and turbochargers became common over time, but each of these advances resulted in increased cost and complexity.

Today, modern engines can include advanced technologies such as direct injection, variable timing, cylinder deactivation, and hybrid technology. These features enhance power, improve fuel economy, lower emissions, and offer drivers an excellent driving experience.

But, internal combustion technology has physical limits. As emissions requirements get stricter and stricter, the ability to deliver affordable power that also meets the requirements is increasingly in doubt. For luxury ICE cars, this isn’t a problem, but for budget cars, power outputs are going down instead of up to affordably deliver on emissions.

The End Of The Line For Affordable ICE

The fact is, there’s really no future for affordable ICE with this happening. Car buyers don’t want to buy anemic vehicles that were slower than the last one they owned. They don’t want turbo lag on top of that punishment. So, we’re going to see more and more ICE vehicles become “penalty boxes” instead of the desirable cars they were just a few years earlier.

The Buick Envista has this critical handicap, and comes in at a price point of $24,000. The before-mentioned Bolt EUV (made by the same parent company of Buick — GM) starts at under $25,000 and comes with tax credits that will later become rebates. With far better performance for less, the obvious choice for anybody but people who regularly take rural road trips will be the Bolt and other comparable EVs.

As budget cars go EV because they can deliver performance at a reasonable price, automakers will then have to push the performance penalty up the market to keep ICE alive. As with the budget cars, buyers will become less and less pleased with them, and will have to go EV to avoid the performance penalties.

You can probably see where this is going. For all but a few limited-production enthusiast vehicles, the penalty of owning an ICE will outweigh any issues most buyers have with EVs.

Thus, ICE has no real future unless emissions requirements are relaxed, and that seems unlikely.

Battery Supplies Could Force Many People Into The Penalty Box If We’re Not Careful

Sadly, it isn’t all good news for those of us who want to see an EV transition. Pressure to buy an EV over an ICE is only helpful if you can find an EV to buy in your price range. Sadly, battery supplies will take years to catch up to the amount of demand that’s coming.

This is where there’s some danger of a backfire. If people figure out that EVs are better, but feel like the government forced them into the penalty box when EVs weren’t available, that will breed resentment. The resentment could then translate into waning political support for both EVs and stricter emissions requirements, which could slow the EV transition down instead of speeding it up.

To avoid this outcome, we need to encourage EV manufacturers to think carefully about how they use their battery supplies. It may seem tempting to sell Cybertrucks, Hummer EVs, and other high-margin luxury vehicles with giant 200+ kWh battery packs, but if this comes at the price of not being able to sell budget EVs in reasonable numbers, it’s a self-defeating strategy.

At best, this will slow down EVs. At worst, it will lead to accusations that the automakers switched from anti-EV FUD to an “Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish” model. If caught doing this, they could face the same kind of legal and policy problems Microsoft faced when caught doing it.

So, automakers really need to think before they act, and ensure battery supplies for a reasonable number of budget and mid-tier EVs.

Featured image provided by Buick.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1953 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba