Shop Press

Shop Press is the news and idea hub for everything related to working on cars and trucks, focusing on repair, technology, and wrenching lifestyle.

From the creative minds at:


Hot Off the Press

Texas nonprofit helps low-income vehicle owners afford auto repairs

At any given time, about 1 in 5 vehicle owners are delaying some sort of auto repair, with the most common reason being that they can’t afford it, according to the Auto Care Association Factbook. All this deferred work adds up to an estimated $31 billion that drivers...

A day in the life of a service writer (VIDEO)

The hardest job in an automotive shop might just be that of the service writer. Taking heat from the boss, the techs, and the customers isn't easy. That the role is for dynamic individuals becomes apparent quickly when considering the tasks that make up the job. Watch...

Serviceability Hall of Shame: Ford Taurus Spring Shields

The Serviceability Hall Of Shame was born from all the times we’ve looked at a vehicle and realized some usually simple task was going to be nightmarish. It is, ultimately, a response and explanation of the inevitable question, “Good Lord, why?!” Today’s entrant isn’t...

January Automotive Horoscopes

Aries: You may not think of some of your repairs as innovative, but a creative fix is a creative fix. Your outlook is out there, and that's OK. Expect to see someone else cribbing your notes but remember to take it as flattery. Not everyone has the same gift of seeing...

It’s totally fine to run your fuel tank down to empty

One of the pieces of automotive wisdom that’s been repeated by publications and mechanics alike for ages is that it’s not good to run a fuel tank below some arbitrary fill point, like a quarter of a tank. At some point, that probably wasn’t bad advice. But today? It’s...

LOF PSA: Don’t forget the lube job

Please forgive me, because I’m about to be a dinosaur and proselytize for a few moments. Many moons ago, I would have customers request an oil change and a lube job. It was so prevalent that the acronym for this, LOF, is still in pretty common use. (That’s “lube, oil,...

Best of Shop Press 2022

Shop Press officially launched in March 2022, at least if you go by the press release. Between then and now, we’ve published well over 100 articles and videos dedicated to auto repair professionals and wrenching enthusiasts. We greatly appreciate everyone who has...

What’s the next big powerplant fad?

by | Jun 2, 2022

Some engine styles aren’t always in fashion, you know.

As technology stamps its way down the path of progress, things change, and what worked yesterday doesn’t always work today. Engines were fairly staid for a long time, and depending on when your life started, what you expected to see under the hood of a given vehicle has probably changed over the years. That leads me personally to ask a question: what’s next? Before I give ya my take, let’s look into some notable changes of the past.

Base-model half-ton pickups

We’re not rewinding all the way back, but in the 60’s, the straight six was a wildly popular base half-ton light truck engine. That held true for forty years, but it was supplanted by more compact naturally aspirated V6 units for a combination of reasons. Size, weight, and emissions technology all helped ring in the death knell of such sturdy units as the Stovebolt Chevy and derivatives, ChryCo’s Leaning Tower of Power, Ford’s venerable 300, and the Jeep I-6.

Dodge Power Wagon

Dodge made wonderful use of the I-6. The flatheads and the Slant Six are still the stuff of legend today. Many buyers reasoned that with the correct gearing, nearly anything could be pulled—but usually gearing dictated that would be at a fairly low speed. Today’s buyers have different demands. Photo by Lemmy.

By 1997, the base model full-size truck from The Big Three all featured a V-6 mill. In 2022, the landscape is wildly different. If you’re looking for the poverty-spec full-size truck, Chevy has a turbo I-4, Ford and RAM will sell you a V-6, Toyota ships a twin-turbo V-6, and Nissan uses a standard V-8—there’s an awful lot of variety under the hood, which I find a bit surprising.

Passenger cars

Similarly, passenger car motors have gone through an interesting cycle of popularity. Unlike the trucks we just discussed, the driver for much of the change was due to packaging constraints: the cars holding the engines morphed and the drivelines did, too. Wagons and coupes waned in popularity, leaving primarily sedans through the oughties, which have in turn been largely abandoned for AWD SUVs, CUVs, and other “softroaders.”

Buick Dauntless

The Buick V-6 has a long and storied history in passenger cars, eventually spawning the 3.8L engine family, seemingly found under every hood in America at some point. (And before anyone points it out, yes, I’m aware this probably came out of a Jeep with that manifold; AMC owned the rights to the Dauntless motor for a time.) Photo by Mike Apice.

The mid-tier motor in 50s, 60s, and 70s sedans and coupes was usually a small-to-midsize V8. In the 80s, as coupes died off and sedans and wagons shrunk a bit and shifted to primarily FWD, transverse V6 designs became the norm, and the engines were of fairly large displacement. As the popularity of AWD rose, implementing it took great importance with respect to engine design and affected layout greatly. Engines of many stripes have been shrunk and fitted with forced induction to keep power output acceptable and emissions low, and while the cylinders may be arranged in wildly different ways, there are more commonalities than one might think, like the overwhelmingly noticeable propensity for engineers to design mostly square cylinders of about a half-liter of displacement.

Heavy haulers

One-ton trucks are my final example. In the 80s, the top dog for pullin’ power was usually powered by a big-block V8. Diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline at that time, so engines capable of burning it (if available), were offered for reasons of economy, not capability. Dodge, not having a diesel, began fitting the twelve-valve Cummins into their three-quarter and one-ton pickups and sort of kicked off the turbodiesel era. For a brief period, gas-powered V10s made a showing, but the diesel performance rendered them moot.

12-valve Cummins

The twelve-valve Cummins really kicked off the current turbodiesel craze, which shows no signs of slowing at the moment. Photo by Lemmy.

Today, of course, across the board, a one-ton truck with the maximum towing rating will be fitted with a turbodiesel.

The future

It would be easy (and a bit of a cop-out) to say, “Oh! The next big thing will be electric vehicles. ICEs will be dead soon.” There is some element of truth there; EVs are becoming more popular. However, I believe their unique characteristics will actually affect ICEs fairly significantly for two reasons. First, all-wheel drive is certainly not becoming less popular. Unlike an ICE-powered vehicle, though, the easiest way to power another wheel is not to siphon power off a central unit but instead to simply place another motor directly onto a wheel. (Tesla does this in its dual-motor vehicles.)

Secondly, most EV batteries are in the chassis floor. Your next question is likely to be, “Why does that matter?”

Well, both of those construction features are pretty incompatible with ICE drive- and powertrains—an AWD gasser needs room in the floor to mechanically send power to the wheels, and multiple small engines would be prohibitively expensive. A manufacturer trying to create one chassis for both drive formats would involve a lot of compromises. Instead, I would expect to see very different vehicle designs depending on drivetrain.

So yes, we’ll see electric powertrains, but they affect the dino-burners. If electric vehicles are the next thing, it would make sense that at some point ICE designs stop progressing, much like the feedback carburetor or the distributor. For all dead technologies, there is a bit of a golden era at the end of life where a device is still usable, but remains unchanged and development stops due to energy being diverted to the replacement. My suspicion is this is where we’ll land with ICE vehicles. It’s very possible we see further development of combustion engines in vehicles come to a halt or progress only in the hands of hobbyist tinkerers.

Maybe some OEM has a grand plan to keep throwing R&D dollars at gassers and diesel-burners, but my suspicion is if that’s happening, it’s a hedge rather than an innovation strategy. So my prediction is that perhaps the current crop of engine layouts in vehicles today stays hip for the next five or ten years and beyond, and that might be pretty great for the final hours of the ICE party before it slows down and stops.

Related Articles

Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline feedback
View all comments
Click to leave a comment!x

Get Articles In Your Inbox

Subscribe to receive a monthly email summary of our latest Shop Press stories.

Shop Press

Thanks! You're now subscribed.