PONTIAC, MICHIGAN—Kendell Fulton, one of the key engineers behind General Motors’ ambitious new portfolio of engines, patted two of the powerplants and said with a smile, “If both of these were standing here running, they would be quieter than the [comparable] VW by itself.”
Fulton, a twenty-four-year veteran of GM, wasn’t boasting, he was illustrating a point at a press preview: the next generation of Ecotecs is vitally important to the automaker as it strives to meet tougher CAFE standards, and no detail—foremost, the sound—was overlooked.
The new Ecotecs will be built in at least five factories around the world, with total production of 2.5 million engines annually by 2017. By then, about one in four GM cars sold globally will have one of these engines. The new Ecotecs range in size from a 1.0-liter three-cylinder to a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, with a total of eleven engine variants being offered in sixty-four countries. They will all have aluminum blocks, and most will have gas direct-injection. They replace a mix of aluminum- and iron-block engines, some of which already had direct injection. Twenty-seven models among five brands, including Opel and Chevrolet, will use the new Ecotecs.
Power will range from 75 hp to 165 hp, and torque will stretch from 70 lb-ft to 184 lb-ft. GM did not specify fuel economy figures but said that the engines will be more efficient than their predecessors. They will run on regular gasoline, and some will be capable of using alternative fuels.
The new Ecotecs will be customized for a variety of vehicles in many markets, including small cars, mid-size cars, compact crossovers, and others. Depending on the model, the engines will be naturally aspirated or turbocharged and will be capable of using start/stop technology. GM engineers say they prefer to keep diesels in a separate engine family, so the new Ecotecs all are gasoline powered. There is a hybrid version in the works, too, although GM refused to offer any additional details.
The automaker wouldn’t specify when the new Ecotecs—or which variants—will launch in the United States, but they are expected to start arriving in 2015. Globally, the first models to benefit from the new Ecotec family are the Opel Adam hatchback, which will run a 1.0-liter turbocharged I-3, and the Chinese-market Chevrolet Cruze, which will come with the choice of a 1.5-liter I-4 or a 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4. The Ecotec-powered Adam goes on sale in Europe later this year; the Chinese-market Ecotec Cruze makes its debut at the Beijing auto show in April.
GM offered scant details on the transmissions that will be connected to the new engines, butdoes say that the Chinese Cruze will be offered with a new dual-clutch gearbox and the Opel Adam will come with a six-speed manual. The engines will save an average of 44 pounds versus the three- and four-cylinder powerplants they replace, GM says, thanks to extensive use of aluminum for most components.
The engine program has been in development for years, with “earnest” work beginning in 2011, said Tom Sutter, global chief engineer for the Ecotec. More than 300 engineers around the world worked on the project, and GM will spend $1 billion to upgrade its powertrain facilities as it moves to produce the more advanced engines.
Despite the wide range of markets, cultures, and price points where the engines will be sold, they share many common parts and a modular architecture. For example, the three-and four-cylinder engine blocks have the same bore spacing and diameter. GM said this allows for more flexible manufacturing processes and will let it to adapt more quickly to changes in consumer tastes.
Engineers paid special attention to noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics, GM says, claiming the new engines will be among the most quiet and refined in their class.
“We were able to deliver all of our needs for all global markets, yet still deliver commonality,” Sutter said.
Testing included 270 engines running at wide-open throttle for a month. More than 1600 experimental engines were made, and they were tested for more than two million miles in 735 prototypes.
Small powerplants are not the sexiest part of the automotive world, and GM’s current engine family is generally considered to be competitive, but the company believes that continuing with the old engines would have been complacent. As Steve Kiefer, global vice president of powertrain engineering says, “We believe it's absolutely required for our customer.”