Engine Downsizing Gets Real For Ford And ChevyBy Bill Visnic April 6, 2011
We'd been told engine downsizing was the irresistible force ready to hit the market, but like previous predictions of all-encompassing trends set to sweep over the U.S. automotive landscape, most adopted a Ill believe it when I see it posture. Believe it. Theres gathering evidence the engine downsizing initiative is well and truly underway. Its been coming thanks to looming fuel-economy regulations mandating most automakers lineups average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, another steady climb in fuel prices this year and what appears to be increasing consumer intent to make an environmental and economic difference by opting for economy over power.
The shift to smaller engines is evident in two examples that both symbolize the core of the U.S. market: General Motors Corp.s Chevrolet division and the nations longstanding best-selling nameplate, Ford Motor Co.s F-Series pickup truck. At Chevrolet, the number of retail customers for all Chevy models opting for 4-cylinder engines climbed from 23 percent in 2007 to 46 percent so far this year. Considering the outsized presence of fullsize pickups in the brands sales mix, the doubling of 4-cylinder penetration in Chevrolets total mix is a meaningful indicator that downsizing is a new rule to mainstream buyers.
Heartbeat Of Change
More evidence from Chevys sales data: installation rates for 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder engines have been dropping in conjunction with the growth of 4-cylinder engines. In 2007, V8s powered 47 percent of all Chevrolets sold at retail. By the end of last year, the ratio had dropped to 40 percent and through mid-March stood at 32 percent in a first quarter that has seen the U.S. buyers vector away distinctly from large vehicles and large engines. In terms of average displacement, Chevrolets aggregate engine displacement in 2007 was 4.27 liters (thats liters, not cubic inches, hot-rodders); by the end of last year, average displacement dropped to 3.88 liters and was 3.5 liters through mid-March this year, according to Chevrolet.
Meanwhile, Fords F-Series pickup line has been the nations No. 1 nameplate for two decades. Early this year, Ford introduced two V6 engine options for the light-duty 2011 F-150 previously, the lineup was exclusively V8. The F-150s two new V6s a normally aspirated 3.7-liter and a 3.5-liter using Fords EcoBoost direct injection/turbocharging technology accounted for 37 percent of all F-150 retail sales last month.
The No. 1 unmet need for full-size pickup truck owners has been fuel economy, said Doug Scott, Truck Group marketing manager, in a Ford statement last week. Ford gave buyers, including V6 truck intenders, a nudge with March incentives, especially zero percent financing. Edmunds.coms analysis shows 10.4 percent of all Ford buyers used the automakers zero percent financing offer in March, compared with 7.4 percent in February.
Future With Fewer
The reduction in engine size and cylinder count also is assured for new and coming models. Hyundai Motor Americas all-new 2011 Sonata, one of last years strongest sales performers, launched with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder as the sole engine choice, eliminating the V6 option of the previous-generation Sonata. The company since has added turbocharged and hybrid variants of the base powertrain.
And for its next-generation Malibu, a concept version of which will be unveiled at the Shanghai auto show later this month, GM has already confirmed it will be 4-cylinder-only power for the 2013 midsize sedan, cutting out the 3.6-liter V6 available for the current Malibu.
Industry sources for some time have insinuated that while V8s and V6s still will have a role in many model lines, improving technology and design is permitting smaller-displacement engines and those with fewer cylinders to mimic the power and performance of multi-cylinder powerplants. Even enthusiast-leaning brands such as BMW have openly admitted to powertrain strategies that increasingly will embrace smaller engines with fewer cylinders to address mounting regulatory and customer pressures for greater efficiency.