Whether you are a fan of GM or not, and I certainly have been as critical as anyone, the world’s largest company shows signs of bolstering their committment even further to provide better fuel efficiency in the future. In each area of vehicle production; gas, diesel and hybrid, GM has important plans in the works.
To begin with, GM is promising to produce one new hybrid per quarter for the next four years. In November 2010, GM plans to launch the Chevrolet Volt, which uses a different type of gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. The electric motor alone drives the wheels and the gasoline engine powers a generator that recharges the lithium ion battery pack.
The company has just opened an advanced powertrain testing laboratory in suburban Detroit. The automaker is rolling out engine technologies that maintain performance while lowering emissions and fuel use. GM has been adding gears, (nearly all of GM’s future automatics will be six-speeds), reducing the weight of its powertrains and designing engines capable of being mass produced with high-tech features such as direct fuel injection and turbochargers.
The model for GM’s future plans for lighweight gas engines are already on the road and embodied in cars such as the Pontiac Solstice GXP and it’s cousin the Saturn Sky Red Line. The engine used in those roadsters is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with direct fuel injection and a turbocharger. The 260 Horsepower for these vehicles constitutes the most power per liter of any production engine GM has ever made.
Two new diesel engines are planned, one for trucks and one for cars. About a year from now, GM will launch one of the most important new engines in its 100-year history: A 4.5-liter diesel V-8 that will be offered in light-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and in SUVs.
The elimination of a heavy cast iron exhaust manifold and a lighter intake manifold cuts 75 pounds of weight that is part of a conventional diesel engine. These weight savings in should result in a 25 percent fuel economy gain over the standard 5.7-liter gasoline engine and enable the Silverado to get around 26 mpg in city and highway driving.
Also in 2010, GM hopes to be the first automaker to launch a vehicle with an HCCI engine. Homogeneous charge compression ignition enables a gasoline engine to run like a diesel at idle and at cruising speeds. The result is about a 15 percent fuel economy gain and dramatically lower emissions.
Finally, fuel cells are also in GM’s near future. The company is launching test fleets of Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles in North America, Japan and Europe. GM’s latest generation of fuel cell can fit in the space of a four-cylinder engine. The company expects to have fuel cells ready for mass production by 2012. GM is hoping one or all of these innovations will help resurrect their business.