GM Ready for Smaller Engines When Customers AreBy Michelle Krebs July 30, 2008
By Bill Visnic
PONTIAC, Michigan -- The world's largest car company is ready to respond to the public's newfound craving for increased fuel economy with a range of smaller engines. But customers are going to have to indicate they're really serious about downsizing their powerplant expectations.
Thomas G. Stephens, General Motors Corp.'s executive vice president, global powertrain and global quality, said at the recent inauguration of the company's new Powertrain Engineering Development Center here that he's delighted with the engine options at his disposal for answering growing demand for better fuel economy. But that's going to mean U.S. customers will have to signal their readiness to accept smaller engines -- in effect reversing a long trend for ever-larger engines and more horsepower.
For one example, Stephens says of the potential for a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine for a vehicle such as the Cadillac CTS midsize sedan: "From a technical point of view, we could do it today."
But, Stephens cautioned, marketing in many segments traditionally has focused on engine cylinder count and power ratings - totems Stephens isn't certain all customers, particularly those shopping in the premium- or sporty-vehicle segments, are entirely ready to give up.
Stephens said GM Powertrain already has a selection of smaller but feisty engines capable of delivering better fuel economy. The turbocharged four-cylinder Ecotec, for example, replacing a larger-displacement V6. Or a direct-injected V6 standing in for the time-honored V8.
"We're ready. When (customers) want it (the option of smaller engines) -- we'll do it."
GM already has said it will cut back on V8 production, and recently decided to suspend the development program for an all-new V8 that effectively would have replaced the aging Northstar architecture.
Stephens also said GM is continuing with a strategy to reduce the number of engine architectures used globally. He said GM is working to settle on fewer engine designs, retaining only those "which have the greatest bandwidth," enabling use in a wide variety of vehicle applications.
Stephens insisted the engine-family reduction won't curtail powerplant variety, however. He said all manner of technical options mean the company can produce several variants of the same engine, all with markedly different "character." He said engine technologies such as turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, to name a few, can be mixed and matched to deliver many different variants of what effectively is the same engine.
Regardless of many automakers' efforts to reduce the proliferation of engine architectures, Stephens said the industry isn't anywhere close to a single engine solution for the future.
"When I look around, the world will not be [exclusively] a V6," he said.
Photos by GM
1 - GM's Tom Stephens.
2 - New GM direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 develops as much power as many much-larger and thirstier V8s.