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GM signs deal to co-develop powertrain

Sign here: GM vice chairman Tom Stephens and SAIC Motor president Chen Hong do the powertrain deal.

New engine family and dual-clutch gearbox set to emerge from GM-SAIC venture

General Motors logo19 Aug 2010

A NEW fuel-efficient petrol powertrain comprising a fresh family of direct-injection four-cylinder engines and a dual-clutch automatic transmission will be developed jointly by General Motors and its Chinese partner, SAIC Motor Group, under a deal signed in Shanghai.

With petrol engines ranging from 1.0 litre to 1.5 litres, the new powertrain will propel front-drive small cars built by SAIC and GM in China and elsewhere within about three years.

The partners claim the new engine and transmission combo should provide 20 per cent fuel efficiency gains over current powertrains offered in China.

It is not clear if the engine and transmission will ultimately feature in forthcoming Holden small cars, such as the locally made Holden Cruze sedan, hatch and wagon range that starts Australia production in the first quarter of 2011, and the next-generation Barina from Korea and its smaller sibling, the Barina Spark, which are both due in Australia in the next 12 months.

At launch, the local Cruze is expected to get an existing GM 103kW 1.4-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder ECOTEC engine that was also shown in a concept Chevrolet Aveo – the model Barina will be based on – at the Detroit motor show in January this year.

 center imageFrom top: GM's new dual-clutch transmission, Chevrolet Spark, Chevrolet Aveo.

The joint venture between SAIC – one of China’s biggest automakers with sales topping 2.7 million units last year – and its partner of 13 years, GM, marks the first time a Chinese car-maker has shared intellectual property rights with a multi-national motor company.

Until now, GM has provided the engineering muscle in the partnership which has helped to give the American giant a massive 13 per cent penetration in the world’s biggest and fastest growing market via Shanghai GM Company Ltd – a GM-SAIC joint venture that sells cars in China under the Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet brands.

So successful has been the partnership that the two companies agreed last December to start a similar operation in Asia’s other biggest emerging market – India.

China’s official People’s Daily quoted SAIC chairman Hu Maoyuan as saying the powertrain deal kicked off a new business model for China’s automobile industry under which technologies would be shared.

"It's a milestone which indicates that SAIC is now on equal terms with foreign automaker in the global market," he said.

The partnership might get even closer, with Mr Maoyuan not ruling out an SAIC bid for a chunk of GM stock when the American company opens its initial public share offering later this year.

GM says engineering and development of the new engine will be done jointly by GM and SAIC engineers in Detroit and at the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), the automakers’ engineering and design joint venture in Shanghai.

Signing the agreement with SAIC president Chen Hong, GM vice chairman of global product operations Tom Stephens said the co-development of the new engines and transmissions built on a strong history of innovation and collaboration between GM and SAIC Motor.

“Together, we will continue to quickly provide our customers leading-edge technologies that improve vehicle fuel efficiency and deliver robust performance,” he said.

Mr Stephens, who was flanked at the signing by GM China president and former Holden executive Kevin Wale, said the new engine and transmission would “hit right at the heart of the global vehicle market”.

GM claims the transmission alone will provide a fuel economy improvement of 10 per cent improvement over today’s conventional six-speed automatic transmissions.

“The co-developed transmission will feature dry, dual-clutch technology,” the statement said.

“It will provide shift comfort equal to a conventional fully automatic transmission, with superior quality, while reducing CO2 emissions.

“When combined (with the new engine), these technologies can provide up to 20 per cent improvement in CO2 emissions, compared to engines and automatic transmissions in production in China today.”

Last month, GM China opened a new technical centre in Shanghai with nine research laboratories and 62 test labs to work on new propulsion systems, alternative fuels, electrification systems, new engines and battery cells.

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