GM Revs Up for Next Generation of Engines

March 7, 2010
Automaker invests $494 million to mass-produce fuel-efficient Ecotec engines.

Building cars isn't cheap, especially when such a massive proportion of R&D is swallowed up in the development of powertrain technology. But General Motors Corp. drew a lot of headlines last month when it announced a bold $494 million investment to build the next generation of Ecotec engines.

In many ways, the investment reveals the times in which we're living: Automakers are shifting gears away from V8 and V6 engines toward smaller, more fuel-efficient ones.

Many of the technologies used for the Ecotec engines aren't quite cutting edge. Direct injection, for example, has been in use for more than three years, along with variable valve timing and turbocharging.

What's significant though is this is the first signal they're becoming mainstream technologies.

According to Paul Lacy, manager of technical research at IHS Global Insight, GM's investment signals a move toward addressing scale needs for its small-car platforms, not one of technology.

GM plans to spend more than $494 million and create nearly 550 unionized jobs in three U.S. plants to produce next-generation fuel-efficient Ecotec engines.

"By 2014, you're going to have 10 or 11 vehicles rolling out that are smaller in size," says Lacy. "I'm not sure it's a boost in technology so much as it is a boost in being able to meet demand for all those vehicles."

The single largest portion of investment will be spent on GM's engine assembly plant in Tonawanda, NY. Approximately $425 million will be spent on tooling the line to produce the new powertrains. According to GM, the moves will enable it to produce as many as 370,000 engines annually, and will result in the creation of 470 new jobs.

Additionally, GM is upgrading its casting operations in Defiance, Ohio, and improving its facility in Bay City, Mich. "GM is transforming its product portfolio to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, and the next-generation Ecotec engine is an integral part of that transformation," said GM vice president of labor relations Denise Johnson in a statement.

Ecotec is an acronym standing
for Emissions Control Optimization Technology, a series of patented GM engine advancements which made
their debut in 2007.

"If GM is making significant improvements to the design, we haven't heard anything about it," says Lacy. "My feeling is, this investment is more about catching up to make all the plants more consistent with the newest technologies."

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