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Car owners may soon gain more confidence in the horsepower that automakers claim for their vehicles.

A group of engineers is developing a new standard to verify automakers’ claims for the power their engines develop.

In the recent past, automakers from Jaguar to Hyundai have admitted they advertised unrealistically high output numbers for their cars.

“Horsepower numbers are absolutely important to our readers,” said Frank Markus, technical director of Car and Driver magazine. “It’s one of the most crucial numbers. It’s how we tell them why one car is better than another.”

The Society of Automotive Engineers is revising its standard for measuring horsepower and will suggest automakers have an independent observer to verify the numbers they claim for horsepower and torque, said David Landcaster, General Motors Corp. engineering group manager and chairman of the SAE committee developing the new standard.

One horsepower is the amount of force necessary to lift 550 pounds 1 foot in 1 second. SAE has developed standards for everything from motor oil to vehicle electronics.

The new standard will also set a procedure for how to test torque, the other main force automakers advertise.

Torque measures the turning force generated at the wheels. While high horsepower numbers generally equate to higher top speeds, torque determines a vehicle’s acceleration and ability to pull heavy loads.

“Companies have always been able to claim whatever horsepower they wanted,” Markus said. “Adding some accountability for the numbers would be a good thing.”

Car and Driver caught Jaguar claiming 10 more horsepower than its high-performance S-Type R model actually developed a couple of years ago. The automaker then revealed it used a test procedure that gave it higher numbers than what is generally accepted by engineers.

Automakers can test for horsepower and torque in a variety of ways, ranging from testing an engine sitting on a bench to evaluating the actual power transmitted to a vehicle’s wheels.

Ford and Mazda have also lowered horsepower claims in the past.

“It makes you suspicious when a car claims more horsepower but has less performance,” Markus said. “Some companies go with the number they like, especially when it gives them a nice round number like 400 horsepower.”

The current test, which was last revised in 1970, allows automakers to claim horsepower and torque figures higher than what most owners will actually experience, Landcaster said.

Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler support the idea of a new independently verified horsepower test.

The new standard should be written by the end of the year, Landcaster said. An SAE advisory committee will then decide whether to adopt the procedure and the use of outside witnesses to verify automakers’ claims.
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