An Eye on EFI

Aug 6, 2012

It’s one of the prime areas of any performance vehicle. Sitting on top of every hot rodder’s motor, every street machine’s engine and under the hood of every road warrior is the engine’s induction system.

And today, more and more of those systems are electronic fuel injection (EFI).

Many companies are producing for this burgeoning market, serving enthusiasts and racers who are more receptive than ever. We asked a number of sources about this market, wanting to learn about the popularity, products and challenges of today’s EFI.

Finding Favor

Our first question was about the popularity of EFI in performance circles. Across the board, our sources not only agreed that the systems are finding favor, but were wildly enthusiastic about their future potential.

“You bet it is more popular, and for several reasons,” said Todd Ryden, media manager for MSD. “Manufacturers have made EFI much easier to install and manage. Our goal with the Atomic EFI system was to make it as simple as possible, which includes reducing the number of connections a customer has to make. Also, there is no need for a laptop to program many of the throttle body systems. Another reason EFI is gaining acceptance is that people expect or want their hot rods to start, idle and run like their daily driver.”

EFI’s benefits can make driving a performance machine more enjoyable.

“Absolutely EFI is more popular today than ever before,” notes Chris Douglas, vice president of marketing for FAST, part of the COMP Performance Group “Enthusiasts have always coveted the advantages of EFI (easy starts, fuel efficiency, etc.) but the technology wasn’t available in a form that was ‘car guy-friendly.’ Today, with products like the FAST EZ-EFI Self Tuning EFI System, the technology is no longer mysterious or scary to work with.”

It’s even entering racing, he adds.

“On the racer side of the equation, every day that goes by, the tuning technology is getting better and racers are becoming more comfortable with using a computer to work on their racer car. It really is a reflection of our society as a whole; even the most non-tech-savvy among us are getting comfortable with smartphones, tablets and computers.”

One of the goals of EFI systems is to make cars easier to drive.

“We are seeing a lot of muscle car owners who want to be able to drive the cars from their youth on an everyday basis and travel to shows without the hassle of experiencing cold starts or having to change jetting due to weather or altitude changes,” says Blane Burnett, marketing and PR coordinator for Holley Performance Products. “Owners of carbureted vehicles are starting to see that their dreams of everyday driving can be realized by the consistency and reliability that EFI offers them, and it’s not as expensive as they might think.”

And the systems’ reputation is growing.

“EFI is wildly popular today, and I believe it is because the stigma that enshrouded EFI for many years has dissipated,” says Andrew Starr, EFI specialist for one of the oldest names in fuel injection, Hilborn Injection Systems. “The notion that EFI was very complicated and required a high-dollar tuner has reversed, and although there is some truth to these aspects, we’re finding that there are kids in high school who are born naturals when it comes to computer use and tuning. EFI has become increasingly easier and therefore more popular with the dyed-in-the-wool carbureted crowd.”

And with that popularity comes easier access.

“Average hot rodders are comfortable with the fact that EFI is here to stay,” notes Ken Farrell, director of electronic products for Professional Products “Prices for kits are stabilizing, ease of use is improving and more features are being added, such as spark control on the latest version of the Powerjection III. Most everyone in the business is familiar with the benefits of EFI and is willing to learn the basics in order to have the advantages of injection. Years ago, when we first started, EFI was a total mystery to most. Now we have customers that are extremely knowledgeable about EFI and are asking for more every day.”

What to Sell

For performance shops looking to sell EFI systems, knowledge is power. And there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the latest EFI products on the market.

For FAST, “the latest developments are in the self-tuning EFI market,” says Douglas. “These products are now incredibly easy to install and no more threatening than a carburetor. On the race EFI side, systems such as the FAST XFI 2.0 continue to evolve in total vehicle control that includes drivetrain and race-specific functions such as traction control. The more advanced EFI systems are also evolving to handle the diverse engine combinations that racers are dreaming up these days. Sophisticated power adder controls are a must for serious drag racers.”

For Holley, “our core competency in the EFI market right now is our system’s ability to ‘self-learn’ an engine,” says Burnett. “One of the realities of older EFI systems is that after you purchased an EFI system you were not familiar with, you had to then hand over more money to someone you didn’t know so they could tune it for you. With Holley’s Avenger EFI System and its self-learning capabilities, you can simply install the system, answer some questions on our convenient handheld device and be up and driving in relatively little time.”

For Hilborn, “the biggest advancement has to be the self-learning aspect,” echoes Starr. “Although there are many variations on the same theme, the fact that the electronics can populate the fuel table on its own is a huge selling feature. Although this feature works fantastic, it doesn’t do everything and there might be some fine-tuning required by the end-user.”

For Professional Products, “the newest advances in EFI are based more on the ease of tuning,” says Farrell. “The latest version of Powerjection III can get up and running with simple setup questions and with the strategies we have developed for self-learning, almost anyone can dial in their car in no time at all. I think simple conversion kits are on the rise.”

And for MSD, “the market has several answers for simple EFI installations based on throttle body designs,” notes Ryden. “The MSD Atomic system was introduced at SEMA last year and has been selling well since January. I think you’re going to see more sending units, in-tank pumps and accessories to help a customer adapt EFI to their street rod or muscle car easier.”

Racing Response

Of course, 2012 was the year that NASCAR’s top racers switched to EFI. So, has that has an effect on system sales?

“There is definitely a newfound interest in fuel management systems now that NASCAR has adopted fuel injection as the standard for fuel management in the Sprint Cup Series,” says Burnett. “It has introduced EFI into an entirely new market that is becoming more receptive to the benefits the integration of EFI systems offer to any performance application.”

Douglas has seen much the same.

“It definitely hasn’t hurt the interest level in EFI,” he says. “I think the more it is discussed in automotive/racing circles, the more comfortable everyone becomes with it. I’m not sure NASCAR independently has moved the needle, but it is part of an overall wave of momentum for EFI.”

And that includes systems found on Pro Touring cars and trucks

“With Pro Touring cars using late-model chassis and engine designs, it only makes sense that EFI will be represented on those cars,” notes Starr.

Those classic vehicles with modern technology were seemingly made for EFI.

“EFI is a standard with the Pro Touring cars and trucks,” adds Farrell. “These cars are driven hard in both race and street conditions. The owners expect them to perform at their peak at all times and do not accept poor drivability or fuel economy. They are our primary focus and the driving force in the performance EFI market. Drag racers are a bit slow coming around-partly due to the fact that they are a WOT, on-or-off type of engine. (Turbo guys not included; EFI is a staple with them!)”

Ryden agrees.

“Pro Touring cars have always been pro EFI. They accept it,” he says. “These cars are built to perform on the street and track, along with AC, overdrives, stereos, etc., and EFI delivers those requirements. A majority of these cars are built around late-model engines and incorporate the factory (or modified) EFI systems.”

Plan of Attack

Next, we asked about any challenges shops may face when selling and installing EFI.

“Selling is easy. Everyone knows that they want it-”it’s just a marketer’s game now,” says Farrell of Professional Products “The biggest challenge remains the economy and disposable income (or lack thereof). Inexpensive carburetors are also challenging. Installations can be handled by most enthusiasts as it sits. Our in-house customer support can help walk installers and end-users through installation and optimum tuning.”

Knowledge plays an important role in EFI sales.

“The cost is certainly a factor for installers and jobbers to have the systems on their shelves,” says MSD’s Ryden. “However, once a customer does some shopping, they’ll find that most of the systems are in the same ballpark, price-wise. Customer support is going to make the difference to close a sale. For an installer, the ability to sell a kit and install it, or support the customer is the key. Being able to offer the installation and show them how to use and tune it through the handheld monitor will make a sale.”

And even though they’ve come a long way, there’s still a technical aspect to EFI systems that installers must address and understand.

“While the products are much more user-friendly today, they are still technical and the customers/dealers must be adequately supported to make sure they have the right parts and then know how to properly use them,” says FAST’s Douglas. “Several companies make really good EFI systems, but we maintain that the post-purchase support is what separates the men from the boys. FAST goes to great expense to properly support our customers during installation and tuning.”

Holley’s Burnett also advises shops to get the knowledge necessary to fully support EFI customers.

“Whereas a carburetor is essentially a bolt-on-and-go installation, there are some things that one needs to be familiar with before jumping into an EFI installation,” he says. “A little bit of wiring is involved in most cases, therefore, we recommend that our systems see installation and proper tuning at one of our qualified Holley EFI dealers. This ensures that your customers receive a clean and professional installation by an approved shop and helps ensure their enjoyment with the switch from carburetion to EFI.”

After all, as an experienced installer, your shop can save drivers time and headaches.

“Self-learning has really helped on the selling side, and having a working knowledge of the system can really help close the sale,” notes Hilborn’s Starr. “Installation isn’t tricky, but some insist on using the good old butt connectors or scotch locks. Nothing will ruin the EFI experience faster than the use of those types of connectors. I strongly recommend the use of solder and shrink wrap for any connection.

“Another issue is attaching the ECU’s main power wires directly to the battery terminals,” he continues. “Sure, the wire going to the cut-off switch or junction block goes to the battery, but it no longer benefits from the battery’s built-in capacitance that is found when connected right to the battery terminals. The loss of this filtering effect could possibly allow noise to disrupt proper ECU function, ruining the EFI experience.”

More to Come

With all the gains EFI has made recently, where is the market heading?

Ryden predicts, “EFI is going to continue to gain acceptance. More people are driving and enjoying their cars, and EFI delivers performance and driveability. Quick starts, consistent idle and throttle response are all great benefits. The market is going to grow, especially with more people incorporating late-model engines into their hot rods. Once you move to EFI and experience the benefits, you won’t go back to your carb!”

Starr agrees.

“With the advancements in EFI technology and the reduction in price associated with it, I feel the EFI market will only continue to climb. These factors along with reduced apprehension have finally made EFI a household name.”

And there are more new worlds to conquer.

“The EFI market is always evolving and finding its way into areas that have, up until now, been primarily dominated by carburetion,” Burnett says. “There are numerous benefits to be realized. Take the off-road market, for example, where rigs are finding themselves pitched at ridiculous angles and at risk of spilling fuel out of the tops of their carbs. EFI engines are more capable of handling those situations without stalling out at inopportune times. Another area where we see our EFI systems growing is in the marine market.”

Advanced systems and advanced tuning methods will keep pushing the market forward, Douglas predicts.

“It will continue to evolve to keep up with the latest engine combinations and customer demands,” he says. “Absolutely, the systems will become even more user-friendly and the hardware requirements will shift toward more mobile devices.”

And Farrell envisions even more application-specific offerings to serve all of the performance market.

“Enthusiasts are adapting to EFI more quickly as systems mature. We see the market going two directions-one with simple plug-and-play installations, and a separate market driven by fully tunable complete systems that can replace OEM products as well as on racing applications.”

All showing that the future is now for electronic fuel injection.