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GM joins eight-speed, small petrol party

On the move: GM's manufacturing facility in Bedford, Indiana will produce components for the new eight-speed transmission and small-displacement petrol engines.

GM to build small engines and eight-speed autos in US as part of $2bn investment

13 Jun 2011

THE big three Detroit brands are seemingly falling over themselves in the race to produce eight-speed automatic transmissions and high-efficiency, small-displacement petrol engines.

Within weeks of each other, Ford and General Motors announced plans to develop and build their own eight-speed self-shifting gearboxes while simultaneously revealing their intentions to develop downsized 1.0-litre petrol engines.

Chrysler led the charge almost exactly a year ago when it laid out plans to build eight-speed autos under license from 2013 at its plant in Kokomo, Indiana, in a move it said would “transform” its future product line-up.

The Pentastar brand has also gained exposure to Italian experience in efficient four- and two-cylinder engines, while expanding into the small and light segments with badge-engineered Lancias.

However, the ‘Big Three’ US car-makers have somewhat had their thunder stolen by German transmission specialist ZF’s recent announcement of a nine-speed automatic transmission for front-wheel drive vehicles.

Unlike Ford, which provided some technical information in relation to its three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine, GM is yet to disclose details other than that its new powerplant will be offered in displacements of between 1.0 and 1.5 litres, providing “key to fuel economy leadership in the four-cylinder engine segment”.

 center imageFrom top: Volt production at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, SUV production at Arlington, Artist's impression of the new IT hub in Detroit.

An early clue as to the engine’s configuration came in the shape of Cadillac’s Urban Luxury concept at the 2010 Los Angeles motor show, powered by a three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine with idle-stop, regenerative braking, dual-clutch transmission and ‘electric assist’.

In addition, production is scheduled to begin this month in India of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine developed by GM in Italy for the Indian market.

Neither will be GM’s first attempt at a three-pot powerplant. From 1996 Opel’s ‘Family 0’ engine was available as a three-cylinder, displacing between 973cc and 998cc.

GM Daewoo (now GM Korea) also offered an 800cc three-cylinder from 1998-2004, co-developed with Suzuki and used in some markets to power the Daewoo Matiz and Suzuki Alto.

Little is known about GM’s new eight-speed transmission, other than it will serve to “offer customers improved fuel economy and outstanding performance”.

GM’s new eight-speed auto and three-pot engine are part of a $US2 billion ($A1.9 billion) investment across 17 facilities in eight US states, a move claimed to create or preserve more than 4000 jobs.

GM has allocated $US49 million for the purchase of tooling and equipment at its 69-year-old Bedford, Indiana, plant where components for the new transmissions and engines will be made. GM said the investment will “create or retain” 91 jobs at the facility, which employs 405 hourly and salaried workers.

The Toledo transmission plant in Ohio will assemble the transmissions and is receiving a $US204 million investment that is claimed to secure about 250 jobs.

Interestingly a $US69 million investment in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that builds the petrol-electric Volt will pave the way for the next-generation Chevrolet Impala to be built there when it arrives in 2013 or 2014, rather than at GM’s Oshawa facility in Ontario, Canada.

Hamtramck will exclusively build the Volt and closely-related Opel Ampera for the rest of this year, with a new target of 60,000 units, up from 45,000.

The Volt and Ampera will be joined by Chevrolet’s new Malibu mid-sizer next year – for which GM invested $US121 in April 2010.

Another $US47 million is going to its Defiance plant in Ohio, where tooling and equipment will be purchased to manufacture components for 1.4-litre Ecotec engines as well as the next generation of small-block car and truck engines.

A further 25 “high-tech” jobs will be created at a new $US130 million “energy-efficient, state-of-the art” IT operations centre in Warren, Michigan. The data hub will be housed in a renovated former administrative site, which GM hopes will consolidate its IT infrastructure, cut operating costs and reduce energy use by up to 40 per cent.

The next-generation Corvette will be built with the addition of 250 jobs and a $US131 million investment in the Bowling Green assembly plant in Kentucky.

SUVs also get a big slice of the investment pie, with the Arlington production facility in Texas that being expanded with a $US331 million cash injection. Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans, GMC Yukons and Cadillac Escalades are all made at the plant and the investment will add 110 new jobs to the existing 2400-strong workforce.

GM’s success since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2009 – including five consecutive profitable quarters – is enabling the Detroit giant to re-hire many laid-off workers.

The company claims its $US3.4 billion investment since being re-formed with the help of the US and Canadian governments has enabled it add or retain more than 9000 workers.

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