If there's one company that the auto industry is keeping an eye on, it's the fast rising Geely group. The brand -together with the other marques under its umbrella like Volvo and Lynk&Co- is really setting a new standard for what can be expected of vehicles from China. No, it's not just about low prices, but about quality, durability, and performance.
Quality, durability, and performance out of a Chinese automobile? Some would joke that it isn't possible, but judging by the number of Geely units we are starting to see on the road, they seem quite serious.
Earlier today we had an interesting conversation online with Dr. Hakan Sandqvist, the chief engineer behind the 3-cylinder 1.5-liter turbo engine that is winning over customers with its performance. Sandqvist was also instrumental in the wet type dual clutch that is mated to that engine. This powertrain is the one found under the hood of many Geely models in the Philippines such as the Coolray (AKA: Bin Yue), Azkarra (AKA: Bo Yue), and the Okavango (AKA: Hao Yue).
Sandqvist said that their 1.5L engine has been tested rigorously to deliver the quality expected by Volvo customers. During the development process for the 1.5L turbo and 7-speed wet dual clutch, Sandqvist said that they have more than 230 test cars in the test fleet. Combined, the engine did over 120 million kilometers in testing and development, as well as over 50,000 hours fitted to engine test beds.
The development story of the 1.5L turbo and 7-speed dual clutch was also unusual given that at the time Volvo was acquired by Geely from Ford, the American automaker was transitioning to the EcoBoost engine line and the PowerShift dual clutch gearbox; both of which have had a variety of issues early on. Some Volvo models did end up using the PowerShift dry type DCT, but now with the powertrains of Volvo, they're using wet DCT which are marketed as the more reliable type of DCT.
Dr. Sandqvist may currently be with CEVT (one Geely's powertrain engineering divisions) but he was with Volvo at the time when Ford was calling the shots. After Geely acquired Volvo in 2010, he says the experience with the previous parent proved useful when it came to engineering the powertrain of Volvo and Geely models moving forward, and that they had a free hand to develop the technology.
The 1.5L engine is also interesting given it was engineered from the very start to be modular; by that we mean it was intended from the start to be able to be configured in a variety of ways, particularly through electrification. That's why we are seeing mild-hybrid variants of the Azkarra with the 48-volt belt starter generator system (AKA: 48v EMS). Hopefully in the future we can see the hybrid versions as well as the plug-in hybrid variants from Geely Philippines.
The result of the engineering resulted in a power unit that was smooth despite the odd number of cylinders (read: 4-cylinders are generally and inherently smoother) and has a high specific output due to turbocharging at 177 PS. We actually posed a question to Sandqvist as to what the engine can theoretically do in terms of horsepower, and he says that over 400 horsepower might be possible given that the 2.0L turbo can do over 500 horsepower when tuned by Cyan Racing; the motorsport division associated with the Geely group.
Mind you, he's not saying you should try doing that with the 1.5L powering your Coolray, Azkarra, or Okavango. Such a power output would be more than double of what the standard engine's output is and would hypothetically result in ridiculously impractical wear and tear. Still, it's interesting to hear from the chief engineer that such a figure could be achievable in the right conditions.
As to what Geely (or Volvo) model could make use of a 400+ horsepower 1.5-liter engine remains to be seen, but the engineer says that they are in constant communication with the performance car departments within the Geely group about future models.
Perhaps a Geely model to compete against the Toyota Supra or Nissan Z can make use of such an engine, but we may just be dreaming.