Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Limits of Power -- Kevin Wilson and Autoweek staffers query some big names (Mays, Lutz, Ghosn, among others) about the future of horsepower in an era of 400 hp Corvettes and Mustang Cobras. Not suprisingly, the consensus is that the horsepower wars are likely to rage on ...

Unfortunately, the inquiry seemed to be looking for a specific horsepower number -- 600, 700, 800 -- that will find its way into a production car. Such a figure only really applies to high-powered sports cars, a slice of automobilia whose total yearly sales probably don't add up to a week's worth of Camrys.

Of course there's no foreseeable limit on sports car power. Acceleration is probably the defining attribute of a sports car. Power is essential, not incidental. And, given the ego-gratification inherent in the purchase of any mega-motored two seater, which mid-life crisis sufferer isn't going to succumb to the lure of more, more, more.

Keep in mind that the nearly 1,000bhp VW Veyron is months away from first delivery.

The more interesting question is what's the limit in cars where power is a nice-to-have, not an absolute requirement. The top model of the next-gen Passat promises 280 bhp compared to the 170 bhp the Downshift family P-wagen (2000) boasts. At an estimated weight of 3600 lbs, that works out to about 12.9 lbs/bhp, just below the Downshift Limit of Power Theory.
We remain convinced that more power than 13.0 lbs/bhp will be a purchasing non-factor for consumers of all but the most specialized models. Manufacture investment is better targeted to increasing fuel efficiency, ride and handling, safety, comfort, and reliability.

Sure, it's interesting to learn that Lutz the showman and walking sound bite thinks "Too much power is never enough." But how many ponies is he willing to put in next year's Maxx?

A corollary to the Downshift LPT is that in the near future most models will offer an engine package that provides close to 13.0 lbs/bhp. Look out for the Honda Odyssey Touring capable of 5.5 sprints to 60!