Goodbye, V-8s. Maybe This Time, for Good

Recently by Eric Peters: Using the Same Logic…

V-8s are on the way out – again.

The first mass extinction occurred circa late 1970s/early ’80s – as a result of the first round of the government fuel economy edicts known by the acronym, CAFE – or Corporate Average Fuel Economy. CAFE mandated that cars (but not trucks) achieve an average of at least 22.5 MPG or else the automakers who continued to build such wastrels would be hit with “gas guzzler” fines, which they in turn would pass on to the consumer. This made the formerly commonplace full-frame, rear-drive (and V-8 powered) family car economically impossible – at least, given the technology of the late ’70s era.

So, they – mostly – disappeared.

V-8s (and mass-market large cars) made a comeback in the ’90s and through to the present day as technology – especially fuel injection and overdrive transmissions – made it possible to make the 22.5 MPG CAFE cut. Or at least, come close enough so that any “gas guzzler” fines were economically manageable. Even something as stunningly, obstreperously powerful as a 2012 Cadillac CTS-V – packing a 6.2 liter, 556 hp V-8 – can manage 19 MPG on the highway, thanks to the efficiency improvements of the past 20-something years.

But no technology in existence today – or on the horizon – will get the CTS-V or anything else with a V-8 under its hood close to the new CAFE mandatory minimum of 35.5 MPG, which goes into effect come 2016. That means – in all likelihood – that V-8 powered cars are about to go away again, this time probably for good.

In fact, the die-off is already happening.

The 2013 Jaguar XF – which since its introduction in 2009 has always come with nothing less than a five liter V-8 – will come standard with a 2.0 liter four next year. The optional engine will be a six of about 3 liters’ displacement.

Lexus has dropped the V-8 as an available upgrade in the 2013 GS series sport sedan, which is now V-6 (and hybrid) powered only. Audi has retired the A8?s 4.2 liter V-8, replacing it with a V-6.

Mercedes is going to introduce a new hybrid version of the E-Class for 2013. The V-8 version of the E will still be offered, but with a starting price of almost $60,000 it will not be a mass-market car.

V-8s are becoming engines for the rich-only. More on this in a minute.

Even sixes are in peril. BMW has shunted the formerly standard inline six in both the 3 and 5 Series, in favor of a new (twin-turbocharged) four.

It’s a clear trend – and the fact that we can see it developing on the luxury-performance end of the automotive spectrum is the proverbial canary in the coal mine as regards more modestly priced, large-engined cars such as the Chrysler 300 and – probably – much-anticipated but likely to be very short-lived models like the 2014 Chevy SS sedan.

If Jaguar, BMW, Audi and Lexus can no longer afford to build V-8 cars (at least, in large numbers, as mass-market models) then it’s a dead certainty GM and Ford and Chrysler won’t be able to, either.

That includes trucks, incidentally.

The new CAFE standard – 35.5 MPG, average – doesn’t apply just to passenger cars, as the original 22.5 MPG CAFE standard did. Everything short of commercial vehicles is now lumped together in the same category. There is no more “light truck loophole” – the loophole that made it possible, back in the ’90s, for the car companies to do an end-run around CAFE for passenger cars by putting big engines into bigger vehicles that could be categorized as light trucks – and which they called SUVs.